My Theatre

19 April 2017

Nominee Interview Series: Haus of Casati

By // Theatre (Toronto)

Before we announce the winners of the 2016 MyTheatre Awards, we’re proud to present our annual Nominee Interview Series.

It only played six performances but Haus of Casati’s lightning-quick site-specific production of Mike Bartlett’s British domestic drama My Child made a huge impact on everyone who saw it (the small cafe where they performed didn’t have many seats but those of us who made it in are lucky we did). I caught up with the cast- Gabriella Colavecchio (co-producer), Scott Farley (co-producer), Christina Gordon, Michael Dufays, Kaitin Morrow, and Adam Cunningham (an Outstanding Actor nominee for his role as “Man”)- to celebrate their Outstanding Production nomination and beg for a remount.

Introduce yourselves and tell us your first experience with theatre. 

Adam Cunningham (AC): Okay, hi, my name’s Adam Cunningham. My first experience with theatre was in high school, writing and performing in sketch comedy. 

Kaitlin Morrow (KM): My name’s Kaitlin Morrow. I guess my first experience with theatre was when I was a baby. My dad’s been running a children’s theatre company for my entire life. So I grew up watching puppets.

Gabriella Colavecchio (GC): Hi, I’m Gabriella Colavecchio. My earliest theatre memory would be, I was in grade school, probably in grade two or three, and this troupe came into our school, and did this play about treating the environment well, and they asked some of the kids to come and be part of it, and I was chosen to be part of it. It was very exciting.

Scott Farley (SF): Hi, I’m Scott Farley. My earliest memory of theatre was going to see Beauty and the Beast when I was five, and I was obsessed with Lumiere and then I went around the house with my arms above my head for a long time. The same thing also happened when I saw, not theatre, but when I saw Star Wars for the first time, and I played Princess Leia for like weeks [laughs]. So I clearly get inspired and then just play the character.

Michael Dufays (MD): Hi my name is Michael Dufays. I do have kind of a grade school recollection of seeing the Nutcracker. I couldn’t tell you how old I was, just that we were a school class that would not sit down. And then we did the Mikado in eighth grade, and I could sing so they picked me to be a part of that. The first time I remember theatre that enthralled me was I was 16 and went to Stratford for the first time and I saw Brent Carver perform as the Emcee in Cabaret. That’s when the magic kind of punched me in the face.

Christina Gordon (CG): My name’s Christina Gordon. And my first actual recollection was singing and dancing to a song called “My daddy’s taking me out” [laughs]. None of the other dancers were asked to sing it but I was. So I did the dance in front of a microphone, and I was six years old at that time, so that was the beginning of the singing and dancing. My voice was nauseatingly loud and high for a child, and so it just kind of lent itself to ending up being in the profession. [laughs]

So tell us about the Haus of Casati Collective and its founding principles.

SF: Well, when we first got together, I think it was really just born out of, “let’s do some stuff”

GC: Yeah, we wanted to do a play. So we had to make a company. It’s not a romantic story. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

SF: No I think that’s very true – you and I are not about romance–

GC: No we’re not romantic – we’re all pros, all the time. But, I would say that the founding principles, one of the things that has always been important to Scott and I, as producers, is that always, doesn’t matter what the work is, if it’s Canadian people that are working on it, we believe it to be Canadian. So we believe in hiring Canadian, and being proud of who we are, and not being insecure about Canadianness and trying to find Canadianness. It’s Canadian. I’m Canadian.

Where’d the name come from?

GC: Oh God [laughs]. That sounded like it’s a big story. It’s not a big story. We knew we had to make a website, so we went through ten thousand names before we could find something where the domain was available [laughs]. Like, it was outrageous. But Casati comes from Luisa Casati, the famous muse—

SF: And patron of the arts. I just love her hair. [laughs]

So what attracted you to My Child as a project?

SF: Well, the thing that amazes me about the script is just how quick it is, it’s literally like a roller coaster. When I first read it I was like “What. What. What is going on?” It was just all over the place. So I was like, “this will be amazing to see onstage if it’s done with this intensity and this speed.” We’re going to sit down and it’s going to be like the beginning of not a regular roller coaster but one of those ones that shoots you out like a rocket and you’re gonna stop and go “let’s go again.” And I love that, taking an audience on a run like that and them immediately wanting to do something else like that again.

How did you approach casting?

GC: There’s not a great story about that, because it was mostly like, “I really like this person, let’s ask them if they’ll do it.”

SF: I would say the most interesting one was for the child– originally we were thinking about getting a child, but then the script is – very intense–

GC: We had sent it to a child – well not to the child, to the child’s parents–

SF: And they sat down with him and read it, and then it was just going to be too much–

GC: It’s going to be too much for everybody–

SF: It’s going to be tough to find a talented young actor who can deal with this weighty material–

GC: And isn’t going to have to go therapy after–

SF: So then we started toying with the idea of using a puppet, which would also be like an object that could be fought over. And then we immediately thought of Kaitlin, because she’s amazing with puppetry–

KM: Thanks, dude.

SF: So that’s how that came about. That was the unusual one, where we had to go somewhere else first, and then be like, “Oh!”, then this is the fit. It wasn’t like we thought of Kaitlin immediately when we read “8-year-old boy”.

KM: You’d be surprised. It’s usually my typecast. 

How’d the rest of you get involved?

MD: So Jeannette [Lambermont-Morey], our director, she was considering me for this other show- which I didn’t get, by the way- but she called me up and she was like, “Apropos of nothing, would you be interested in being involved in this project? I’ll send you the script and we can talk about it.” So she sent me the script. And I read it. And I got back to her and I wrote, “I feel terrible” [laughs] – because the script was just, it was very off-putting, the subject matter was hard to bear, “so yeah, I think I’d be interested in doing it.” Because I love things that kind of shake me off the ground a little bit. My role as a fight director was I think the other half of her decision to approach me, which was “we’d like you to play this guy, and then we need you to design the fight”. I’d worked with her just a few months prior, in the summer, and I think that’s why I came to mind for her.

CG: Same thing for me. I had just finished doing the musical adaptation of Faust By Leslie Arden, which was, in its own way, a very laborious birthing of a new work. But when someone calls you directly and says “We’d really like you to do this project”, you feel a little bit more “Well yeah, let’s take a look at it” – it’s nice to be considered in that way. And you guys had seen some of my work, so I guess it wasn’t completely a cold call. I’m getting nods and shakes- you saw Faust. Being pre-vetted is nice. And then once I read it I was like, “Oookay… awesome.” Because it’s not a true character role, which is more what I do, so it’s nice to have a role where I’m not singing. Or dancing. But I’m actually immobile in a wheelchair. Yeah, it was nice.

Did you feel that that physical limitation unlocked you in certain ways or was it really a limitation?

CG: It actually made me able to think more, because, except for those few times when we did have to have some kind of confrontation, I didn’t have to consciously think “oh now I have to walk here, oh now I have to walk there” for any particular reason. It was actually the reverse. The natural impetus to move, you have to limit that, otherwise you look like a soap-opera person in a wheelchair, which is never what you want to be likened to.

MD: Actually do you mind if I ask Scott a question? Because I was actually curious- your desire to create theatre was the impetus for you guys to put Haus of Casati together, but I’m curious why you didn’t decide to cast yourself in a [larger] role. Seeing as it was a chance for you to do theatre, one would naturally cast themselves in some sort of meaty part, and yet you kind of took a back[seat] and put on the producer’s hat. Was that something, a decision you consciously made, that you wanted to produce?

SF: No. I came when the project had been basically decided upon. It was Jeannette and Gabriella being like, “I think we want to do this but we don’t want to do it alone – are you interested?” – because I was also thinking of doing another project at the time and then we were going to piggy-back it onto My Child, but then that changed so then I was just in this producer role, with this producer hat.

MD: I was just curious about that.

SF: But I did a great job as Man in Subway [laughs]

CG: Man in Subway was my favourite.

MD: I was like “What’s his problem” [laughs] and we never find out–

SF: I have pages of backstory. 

Tell us about developing the fight and really personalizing it to the characters. 

MD: I believe, or I would like to believe, that Jeannette called me on board for this because she enjoyed my process, which she got to witness and be a part of in the previous show that I mentioned. My big thing is, fights have to be character-driven and we have to make clear what the intentions are literally with each moment. I liken it to baking a cake: I had the best ingredients. Adam, I don’t know the entirety of your fight experience, but I know that you trained at George Brown, and I know [George Brown instructor] Simon Fon’s work, because he was one of the best men at my wedding, and he’s a very close friend of mine. And so, for lack of a better word, Adam was a go-er. He green-lit the energy that we were going to try to embody. That was kind of step number one for me to make considerations about how we were going to proceed, was that I had this guy with a great attitude toward fighting, and quite capable as well. That was step one.

And then step two was really taking what the essence of that fight was, and seeing how we could make it work for our production. Because it’s a little different on the written page. On the written page, Adam’s character destroys this hotel room, and what we gleaned from that through a lot of conversations- one of the best things from working with Jeannette, is how thorough she is in trying to understand what’s really happening- we decided that it was important for Adam’s character to express a helpless rage, one that wasn’t direct, that emboldened him to be necessarily brave or warrior-like, but one that simply was a cathartic experience for him, because so much of the play was a frustration for this character. And it’s kind of large moment where he actually had a catharsis. And we didn’t have props to deal with. So we had to take the idea of him destroying this hotel room and raging at all the objects in it with no props. So one way that I thought to embody the helplessness was simply to make Carl so confident in his ability to handle physical conflict that it became very evident immediately that “The Man”, who doesn’t have a name, was simply out of his element but still was trying desperately to apply himself to an area that he didn’t believe in. Pacifism had ruled his life up until this point, and he just wasn’t certain how to go about it. So we made him very unskilled and untrained in the way that he came across, and Carl much more skilled and trained, coming from an affluent background that we discover in the text, so he must have taken some kind of classes.

Some of the brutality came from dissecting what does Carl want out of this fight? And we decided that one of his chief goals was to make The Man suffer, because I think there’s a vindictiveness in all of us, and when we see a great injustice happen- in this case Carl’s stepson had been kidnapped by his father, he sees that as a fierce injustice, and that it’s a personal injustice- and I know that when I feel that I’m in that kind of dynamic, I kind of want to see someone pay for it. Well, pay for it, but acknowledge what a terrible person they’ve been. And there’s some parts of the text that helped you navigate that but when it came to the violence we really wanted me, Carl, to have the upper hand.

So what we did in the room was, we just sort of explored what felt good. Adam gave me a lot of feedback, he was like, “this feels good” or “maybe we could do this,” and I’m always open to suggestions in terms of fights and character impulse and more actor impulse, because they’re the ones embodying the role. And I did things that felt good to me, too, that made me feel like, “Yeah, I’m in control”. There’s one moment, I think in rehearsal, where I had him tied up on the ground and I started to spank him, and there was a reaction from the stage manager. She was aghast that I had done that. And I knew at that moment that that was the right thing to do, if that was the reaction I was eliciting, because, you know to demean someone and to take them down a peg and to humiliate them, I think, was important to reveal through the violence. And that appears as brutal. When you see someone losing face, when you see someone being humiliated, it’s hard to watch, it’s really hard to watch particularly when it’s someone who doesn’t have the capacity to reciprocate or fight back.

Adam, to play an outmatched pacifist in the fight, did you have to downgrade your skills or forget them somehow?

AC: I mean yes and no. When I read the script initially-and up until we were rehearsing- I had a pretty clear view of what I thought, not necessarily what the fight would look like, but, even before I really got into the character, I knew what that moment felt like. And for myself, having some sort of background in fighting, I know that I don’t like stagey fights. I don’t like it when you’re in the middle of a play and then all of the sudden you’re like, “here’s a fight”–

MD: You can see all the moves, delivered [precisely]. 

AC: So, especially for this sort of play, it was very important for me, and for Mike as well, that the transition from acting into the fight was organic, to give it a word – so it was like, mushed into it. You know what I mean? It didn’t stop, where like “now we’re fighting and now we’re not”, there was no other outcome that could have happened there. But being so out of control, we are still in control. But I think I allowed myself to rely a lot on my senses. 

MD: And your athleticism–

AC: Yeah. You just kind of draw on all your prior experiences for stuff like that. Athleticism and different theatrical things I’ve done in the past allowed me to gain certain spatial awareness that makes me comfortable to do something that wild in such a small space, where maybe someone else would be a little more uncomfortable. And then having Mike as a partner allowing me to be like, “I’m going to just be very loose here” and we’re throwing punches and this and that, and it’s not staged. We just know we’re going to be here on this, and so on. 

Adam, Gabriella, Christina and Mike, you all played characters that were in a way the hero in your own story and the villain in someone else’s. Let’s settle it now: who was right?

[laughter]

GC: Dear God. Everyone in this play was so horrible–

MD: The kid was right–

SF: Oh my god–

MD: I just gotta say, for myself, I don’t think you can enter a role and truly despise yourself unless that’s written in the script. I think people naturally make themselves the hero in their own lives– And so as far as who’s right, my opinion is, everyone thinks they’re right. 

KM: It’s challenging because everyone in real life is wonderful and horrible at the same time and I think that that was true of these characters. They were all, in their own way, wonderful and in their own way completely horrible.

MD: They’re all flawed. And the chemistry between those flaws is what translates the story. These aren’t great people who are morally walking a high ground. They make errors of judgment.

KM: I think also what’s important is that, it seems that all of the characters are abusive, but they’ve also been abused. And they’re abusive because of that abuse. But everybody is. So it becomes kind of like, “I can understand why she did that, because her mother did that” but then why would she do this to him?

MD: They kind of come by it honestly–

KM: Yeah, they all do, they all have good reasons for being terrible people.

CG: Every time I read it or even heard it, I came up with a different scenario. And actually I did an oh-so-casual survey, after every show: who do you think actually injured the child’s arm? And I would just ask someone who had seen the show. And some were just like “Uff! Carl!” Like, right away, not even thinking. “Carl!” And other ones would go, “Aah, I think it was a bruise and then the kid just made it worse, like, just kept banging away ’cause that would get attention, ’cause that was fun…” And so there was different answers every day to that one question.

Did anybody ever not come up, as the answer?

CG: No! They usually [said] that it might have originally been him not paying attention to the child falling over, etc, but they don’t think that The Man, the father, made it worse. It’s so interesting to find everybody’s reaction in the moment, like, “who do you think did it?” And then somebody else said, “I think it’s cancer.” I got a couple of those. That it was actually, you know, pre-cancerous bruising, that starts to surface, and the child is actually in severe danger. You know about precancerous bruising? It’s one of the first signs of leukemia–

KM: Changes everything–

MD: Puts a great hook in the story, because then it’s about these adults who are bickering over the things that are in their relationship and not about the life that’s at stake, right? Like they’re not even going to see what’s really the danger. And when someone said that to me, I was like, “Oh wow, that’s really, that’s a profound entry into paralleling what’s trying to be told in the story.”

CG: I don’t think my character had any active [role in the bruise] but my other sins outweigh the fact that I didn’t really take the injury seriously. 

KM: A lot of people told me they didn’t really think it could have possibly been the father character. But, he kidnapped the kid and tied the kid’s arms behind the kid’s back! And he’s portrayed as this pacifist and yet half of the play is about this man abducting this child. So that’s hard to believe. The mother, is one of the other presumed innocents, but she hits her mother. She hits her ex-husband. There’s a very good chance that she hits the kid as well. Obviously Carl and the kid enjoy going to wrestling and Carl is obviously a violent man. He’s the easiest answer. But the kid’s manipulative. He’s a kid who has a lot of wants and is very confused, and is exposed to a lot of violence and it’s very possible that he could have done it himself. I think what the fascinating thing about this play is, is that everybody involved is guilty. Everybody involved is guilty of hurting this kid, including the kid. And obviously to pick one, it’s a fun question and it’s a fun game, and I was going to arbitrarily say The Man on the Subway [laughs].

SF: Kaitlin, the kid is the one character who knows the truth. Did you never choose during the run, who you thought it was?

KM: I did choose that, in my mind, the kid was genuinely put off by this bruise. And whether he did it in play and had no idea, because kids often hurt themselves or are covered in bruises, that’s just part of being a kid, you run around, you fall down, you get up and you go. It’s very possible the kid hurt himself, but I made the choice that it wasn’t something that he purposefully – that he’d go in the other room and punch himself a bunch. 

SF: It also could have been a thing, where he had that bruise and then like the second The Woman reacts the way she does and is like, “Did you do this?” and he’s like, “Oh my god – did you actually do this, did someone hurt me?”

KM: Well and that’s the other thing- it was suggested to him that someone hurt him, which only freaks out a kid more. You’re being told that all of these role models…

CG: We had that discussion with Jeannette early on in one of the sessions, that the perspective of how bad the bruise is- even though by the end of it, it is fairly bad, supposedly- if someone says, “Oh my god, you’re bleeding from the top of your head” and you’ve got a little cut there…  it’s also, if someone is saying, “That is probably the worst bruise I’ve ever seen”, the perspective of that. 

KM: I also just chose that because I felt like that made it more dramatic for the kid, because of the line- “how’s your arm” and the kid is like, “It’s. Gone. Black.” It’s more interesting to say that as a surprise than to say that as, “Ooh, it’s black, it’s been black for a while, you know…” [laughs] So I think the kid was genuinely put off by how much worse this bruise was getting over the course of the play. So I don’t think, if the kid did it, I don’t think it was intentional. Carl could have punched him the night before. Or grabbed his arm and thrown him in his bedroom and not thought that he bruised – I don’t think that anyone in the play punched the kid and thought they did it. But it could have been anyone.

CG: Bruises surface. Anybody who’s had a dance injury knows that; that first one is like “oh, yeah” – then like five days later it’s like “plooych”

KM: God, the number of shows where I’ve gotten offstage, don’t feel like I’ve hurt myself, and then  I’m completely covered in bruises– my knees are just solid bruises, like okay, when did that happen? And changing colours; it’s lovely. 

The way you staged the play, everyone is in constant motion; it was really really quick. What were some of the execution challenges of that?

GC: I think the biggest challenge would have been that, for money reasons, we were rehearsing in our houses, alternating different houses or apartments and things, so our spaces were so small, so it wasn’t until the very end when we finally got into the space that we could actually feel, “oh how long do I need to walk before I end up offstage?” I know the first performance, first two performances, I was still kind of adjusting how far back I had to walk and stuff, to get the timing right. That was difficult for me. 

CG: Depending on the capacity of the crowd, as far as the wheelchair, one time I found myself doing the Austin Powers three-point turn [laughs]. Because I hadn’t performed the turn cleanly, I was like “sorry guys – I’ll get into position in a minute…”

Kaitlin, walk us through the creation of the puppet and how you embodied that full character with just movement and voice. 

KM: Hopefully no one was looking at me. It’s always the biggest compliment to me after I do a puppet show or performance and speak to someone and they’re talking to someone about the show and they’re like “Oh, did you see that puppet?” “Yeah.” [laughs] And they had no idea that it was me. Because obviously the objective is not to look at me, it’s to look at the puppet.

I didn’t make the puppet. Graeme Robinson generously donated his time to make the puppet, so I was given this puppet. It’s kind of a medium-height dough-boy. And, it was an interesting process to figure out, what does the puppet need to do? Because physically, “okay, so the puppet needs to sit down”, “oh now the puppet has to lie down”, “oh now the puppet has to punch and kick” – okay – so there were some adjustments that I made to the puppet as we went along. And – “Oh, he looks really, really weird – let’s put some clothes on him”. As we went through that process, physically we had to figure out, “okay, A) what is puppet capable of doing, and B) what does puppet need to do to serve the story, and how can we make the puppet physically do those things?” That’s kind of the fun thing about puppetry, is that you have to consider that.

But then, approaching this British kid, as an actor, was an interesting challenge. It’s been a while since I’ve had to do a British accent. And, I think getting inside the mind of a child was definitely an interesting challenge because the core of motivation is usually much more primal but at the same time around that age they’re toying with manipulation and they have very strong wants and they have a million different ways of going about doing it. I think it’s a really interesting challenge to not be patronizing in the approach, not judge the character and just truly try to see everything from this kid’s perspective. The kid is written on the page to be a little bit of a punk. I wouldn’t want that kid to be my kid. He’s such a challenge. But you also have to look at all these deeply flawed people that he’s surrounded by, to put it mildly, and you see where it comes from. So I think it was a really fun challenge because the script is so good. And I didn’t even realize that on the first pass, but there’s just so many little gems in that script. It moves so quickly and it’s so smart and simple and not overwritten, and if a line didn’t feel like it was coming out right, I knew it was my fault.

And then you take those actor impulses, and then you take those physical needs, and the marrying of those two things to try to create this organic creature onstage, is a fun challenge, is something I absolutely love to do, and I don’t think [puppetry is done] enough in theatre in general because it’s such a cool medium. But, it’s a really fun challenge because the kid also doesn’t have expressions on his face and he’s on stage with these really good actors, and to have this blank face with two little black squares for eyes convey all of the subtext and to be able to be on the same page as these humans is a really interesting journey. A lot of it ends up being in, like, the pull back of the head, or the tilt of the head, or the body jumps up suddenly, or choosing to make my hand go tense in one moment because the kid’s really angry, or choosing to have him be a little slower… Everything had to be expressed physically and with tone of voice, because so much subtlety is expressed in eyes- if I want to look to the left, I can communicate so much with just a subtle look with my eyes- I don’t have that privilege with puppets. It’s a physical limitation of this particular puppet. So, it was really fun to try to go, “Okay so this is kind of what I want to do – how do I do that physically and how do I convey that with the limitations of the object?” But puppets are great because they are limiting but they are also really freeing. Puppets can fly, humans can’t. So there’s a lot of stuff that the kid maybe could get away with that a human might not be able to get away with. It’s a really fun medium to play with, and challenging.

What were some of the challenges for the rest of you acting opposite the puppet? Or were you just so happy to be spared a child actor?

[laughter]

MD: I found it liberating to talk to the puppet. For me there’s always the consideration of consequence and damage, at least for an abusive character that I was playing, to really send that energy up to a young person, and I don’t know how that might be received. I haven’t worked with any children but it kind of was on my mind, so I was happily liberated to be able to work with this puppet. Although my challenge was, occasionally I would look up at Kaitlin because the voice is coming from there, so I was responding to the source of the voice and I would break my own bubble. I was like, “Oh god, I’ve lost my believability”. That was my challenge anyway.

GC: I was nervous about it at first because I hadn’t acted across from a puppet before, but it didn’t take long. It took like two, three, rehearsals and then I immediately fell in love the puppet. Jeannette and I would be talking and I’d be like, “I can’t believe we actually considered not doing it with the puppet! The puppet’s amazing” We all just loved it so much. It just clicks. It didn’t take long to click, and then it was fine. I was afraid to touch the puppet at first. That was my big fear. Then we had to touch it right off the top- Jeannette did that intentionally, had me touch the puppet right off the beginning- and I think that just clears the whole thing, just gets you used to it, like “Okay, it’s not weird.”

AC: No, it wasn’t that weird. I have been working with puppets for a really long time, recently. I’ve done a play for two and a half years called War Horse where I was just with puppets all the time. So, stepping in and acting with one again was not a stretch. Not really. Kaitlin’s amazing, so…

Kaitlin mentioned the accent. When I talked to Jeannette she talked a little bit about some of the rights issues you ran into in terms of being able to stage it in Toronto. Tell us about that experience and what were some of the other major roadblocks? And how did you guys approach the Britishness of these characters, and make your versions different?

GC: Yeah, that was the first major problem that we had to deal with, was that we had very much intended to just set it in Toronto. I believe Jeannette had worked on a different play of his before and they didn’t have any problems changing things- they were given permission – but we weren’t given permission, which was unexpected. We had just assumed we would. We were going to change all of the London references to Toronto, and then we would have just done it in our accent. 

SF: We had figured out what they would all be. There was even- when Man takes the kid away to Scotland, it was going to be Quebec, and we had changed some of the lines to French–

GC: Quebec French, we even got some people to help us. [laughs] So yeah, they didn’t accept that. Then we were sitting there thinking, “Okay, if we’re going to keep all the references in London, and say them in Canadian accents… maybe that’s even weirder” Like, maybe just do it in an accent, don’t worry about it. This was part of what Scott and I were talking about before, the kind of self-consciousness of, “Oh, is it Canadian enough, is it weird to do accents, should we do it in our own accent?” and then we were just like “whatever, it sounds great in a British accent”.

MD: Because the idiom is correct–

GC: Yes! That’s right, the idiom–

MD: The rhythm, the speed with which you start. There’s specific words that just – you know where the location is based on what they’re saying. For me, I was game. Because, I’m half Korean, so my opportunity to act in period, or even to have a British accent in live performance is rare. I’ve only done it twice. When I was on Reign and I did King Arthur in Spamalot, and it was the only time I professionally acted with a British accent, so I was really happy that we made a decision to just go with what the script is written as. It’s funny, I think some of the decisions that were made about what tier of accent it was, because there are a variety of British accents out there that you could go to, and I know for Carl, we decided that he wasn’t old money, so he wasn’t exactly uppy, stuffy, good education, but he definitely made his money and status was important to him, so he was working his way up that social ladder. But you can’t be an imposter as well in that social ladder, because people see through that, so we decided, Jeannette and I, that he had some education, some decent education, came from either a middle or upper middle class family, perpetuated that and created great wealth for himself. So that’s how we decided.

KM: We did this show in a cafe, so it was a very public setting, and there were doors everywhere because of the building that it was in, and a friend of mine told me a really quick story, that we were all doing this in British accents and you’re in this world, you’re watching this play but, as you describe, we’re all moving around, and Carl doesn’t come in until the very very end. So my friend watches this man stand up and he looks kind of lost, and he’s kind of worried that a strange man has just come in off of the street [laughs] and is looking, wondering where he is, and what’s happening – until he starts speaking with a British accent. My friend was like, “Oh okay, thank God, he’s actually in the play” [laughs]. It’s in a public space, the back door is unlocked. 

MD: People would come in through the back door and use the bathroom during the show.

The script says that it has to be “inappropriately public”. How did you pick that particular cafe?

SF: Well, we had done a bunch of research and looked up a bunch of cafes in the East End particularly. Jeannette really got attached to that one immediately. There was just a great feel to this one in that the bar and the fridges were just right there, and then it had a number of different spaces, different types of seating. It just seemed like this hodge-podge of a space that really flowed well to go into different locations for the play.

GC: And we were really lucky that the two owners, Jason and Elizabeth, were really great to us. Everything we asked, “oh is it okay if we do this, do you have that, can we borrow this?” they said yes to everything. They were so helpful. We did a fundraiser there. We had talked ad nauseam about whether we needed a microphone. We decided we didn’t need a microphone. We got there and the place had filled up, and we were like “Oh shit, if we had had a microphone…” [laughs] We really should have had one, and then Jason was right behind me, and was like, “Do you guys need a microphone?” And we were like, “Yeah. Yeah we do.” So he was just so fantastic. They were just really really great about us using their space. They told people about the show. They came themselves multiple times. And they took the advantage of taking pictures of our set-up to show what else could be done there. Because I think it could be not just a cafe space, but other things could happen there. That’s what the whole cafe is about, is being multi-purpose, multi-whatever. And [Jason] was also really appreciative that we would always come in with a game plan, like we would plan everything out so there would be the least impact on their business. They really liked that, I think.

What were you hoping the audience would take away from the show?

SF: I don’t think I had any personal things. I wanted almost a stream of silence after the show, of just them thinking, like this off-putting, “what did I just witness?” You know, that feeling at the end of the roller coaster, I keep bringing it back to that–

CG: My favourite, well not my favourite, but, when the fight was going on, I was turned away in the wheelchair, and I actually had, usually, the view of probably about 25% of the audience, and the physical cringing and feet lifting off the floor, and people, just, not being able to watch, or literally writhing in discomfort, was incredible to watch. And then at the end of the play, there would be almost a blank slate. Like, they didn’t know. They would be as exhausted as you guys were after the fight, which I thought was awesome, it was absolutely awesome. And then I had to remember to turn off the lights. [laughs]

GC: Yeah it’s funny because I never anticipated that kind of response. I don’t know what I thought the response was going to be. So the first couple of nights I went out, and I went to talk to people who had come to see it, friends of mine or whatever, and they just didn’t have anything to say to me. They just kind of looked, like this blank stare, and I took it so badly. I went in the back, like “Everybody hates our play…” [laughs] “I guess we did a really bad job…” And then it was only days later that it trickled through– And people really liked. I totally just misread it, that kind of stunned [reaction]. 

KM: I’m super used to doing comedy, and I love any opportunity I get to not do comedy because it’s so fun, but the scary thing is, comedy for the performer is great, because you know whether or not the audience is enjoying it. There’s no question. You hear it. There’s this immediate feedback. Whereas a show like this – the feedback isn’t immediate, it’s a bit slower. People would message me days later-

SF: They need time to digest–

Which is tricky with just a six-day run. Any chance for them to see it again?

GC: We’ve been talking about it.

SF: We knew it was a crazy short run. Even word-of-mouth was going to be almost impossible, because most likely people already have plans. I mean, it was literally one week. And it wasn’t even like, three performances this week and then time off in between, and then another three. 

GC: Which is what it was originally going to be. But then scheduling was a problem, and we had to squish it down. 

KM: And it’s such a new company that we don’t already have an audience built in. 

GC: Exactly. 

But it seemed to sell really well, regardless, right? There were lots of people there when I was there. 

GC: Yeah, we did. I was surprised, I thought we were going to have nobody there. 

SF: There was one really terrible night [laughs]. It was awful.

GC: It was what, Derrick Chua and three other people? [laughs]

CG: The guy who owns the place, three other people, and Derrick Chua. Like that is what we had in the audience. 

Did you have a favourite moment in the production?

GC: In rehearsal, I loved watching the fight. Because I liked how weird it made me feel. 

SF: Oh, I think my favourite was when your character, Gabriella, as Woman, reamed out her mom and just threw down the laundry. In that moment I just felt the air sucked out of the room.

CG: I liked the fact that that was probably one of the funnest exit lines that I’ve been given in probably my entire career

GC: Oh my god. Yeah, that’s it, that’s the best moment, too true.

What’s your exit line?

GC: “I’ve been watching fooking television.” [laughs] My favourite moment, just, clear the stage, all good.

KM: I’m a big fan of violence. I mean, not real violence, but staged violence in any kind of real quality, stage or TV, I mean the fight is an obvious one. Maybe a less obvious one is, there’s this moment between the child and the child’s grandmother, where the child really doesn’t want to be hanging out with his stinky old grandmother, covered in piss. She’s like, “I’m ill” and the kid’s like “are you going to die?”. The kid is processing this in the moment, and then the kid goes, “Now?” [laughs]. And then the grandmother – the way Jeannette staged it, she had Christina slowly, creepily wheeling toward me being like, “Maaaybee” [laughs]. She had such a hilariously deranged look on her face-

CG: I felt like a skeksis- “I’m going to suck your blood”- from Dark Crystal.

KM: Just “Maaybee… sooon-” [laughs] “Maybe, now!”

GC: Or when you and your dad are watching the bootleg movie? [laughs] That used to always crack me up. 

KM: Yeah, before the kid realizes it’s a bootleg–

SF: It was also a physical moment that Kaitlin did as the child, where I think you had asked your grandmother if she had pissed herself [laughs] and she says yes and the line was just, blank, and what you had done was just like a step back, like “are you kidding?!” [laughs]

GC: That was good, yeah. 

CG: I liked your consternation when you were looking at the DVD cover. That got me every time. “Is it… bootleg.. is it – what?”

AC: That scene, I loved doing that short little bit. Just that back and forth there. And then another back and forth later in the play, when our roles kind of reverse, and we’re in the hotel and I’ve just gotten really frustrated and you’re like almost comforting me?

KM: You kick the table and break the leg off it – [laughs]

AC: I kick it, and that took a weird amount of honesty. It was kind of hard to find what was happening in that moment for a long time. For me anyways. And then when we finally found it, it was like, “Ah fuck.” This wicked fun acting moment.

Most of you played people who were related to each other. Did you give any thought to what family similarities or shared mannerisms you might have?

GC: Absolutely–

CG: Especially for us, for sure. 

GC: Everything I learned I learned from you. We talked a lot about what things were like at what time. What my childhood was like, what my father was like with you, what you were like with me, what he was like with me, what Adam and I were like when we had first gotten married. Yeah. That’s such a huge part of our discussions. And, like we were saying before, Jeannette’s really good at wanting to discuss everything. Very thorough.

KM: Very thorough. Detail-oriented.

CG: Very thorough. Even just the way that the script was broken down was very helpful because we could relate to – she had cubes within cubes of relative scenes and that kind of thing, and it really helped us link into the previous thought and where we were going with it and so that was really good. And also, for me, being the grandmother, knowing historically what kind of pressure I would have been under, societally and economically, bringing up this child and the fact that there is only one, which is very telling to me, that there is only one child. So there is very little love between her and her husband. I mean it’s just one of those things where you go- I mean, not always is an only child because the marriage has died, but definitely seems to indicate that that was what it was.

GC: Especially the way I turned out. [laughs]

CG: Yeah

Scott, you were joking when you said you had pages of Man on Subway backstory, but you did have a couple different characters, each of whom had one or two lines. Were those just lines you threw out there, or did you give each person some thought and development even though it was only one line?

SF: I mean, there’s not much else to do [laughs] so obviously, I think anyone else here would do the same, you just end up thinking about, like, “What would this possibly be if this scene went longer?” or like “What else… Where did I just come from? What am I doing?” I always end up making up little [stories]. 

So tell us the untold story. 

SF: Oh my God. [laughs] Well, for Father. Okay. So obviously I’m younger than where this would be, but I was like, “I wonder if this would actually be Man’s interpretation of who his dad used to be?” So then I’m like, “oh, he is like the epitome of who he thinks his dad is”. Because we’re ghosts, we can be whatever the hell we want. I’m like, “this is so great, wonderful”. So then Jeannette and I- because she also had a line, or two- we would look at each other and be like, “didn’t we fuck up” [laughs] Then I would be like, “did we not really care?” Or they were like “We love you but we’re going on a date. Deal with yourself.” [laughs] And then Man on Train, he was just… [laughs] he needed to get to work, he was a lawyer. Or not really a lawyer, he was a paralegal. Because if I’d had a suit jacket, he would have been a lawyer, but I did not. So I was like, “he can’t be a lawyer.” So I pictured like, first season Suits, trying really hard, with my messenger bag, and I’m like “I’m gonna fucking lose my job…” And then there was this fucking crackhead- [laughs, referring to The Man] I definitely thought that he was crackhead, that was the thought process, and I’m like “here we go again, another one”. And that is the life of Man on Train.

CG: I always thought that he’d had like, seven espressos before walking out the door–

SF: Well as an actor, yes. [laughs] I was pent up in the back, just smacking that block, and then running in, saying my one line, and bonking it. 

CG: That was one of the fun things- we had this way of segregating the scenes [with noises] and we would all get confused. Is it a bonk? Bonk bonk? Yes? Yes yes? Love? No bonk? Yes? Love bonk? I literally said “love” seven times before I actually got to deck, and I would be off in la-la-land – LOVE!

KM: During rehearsal, if you weren’t paying attention and it was between scenes, just out of nowhere you’d hear “LOVE!”

Tell me a little bit about working with Jeannette and some of the ways she helped you define your characters.

GC: Jeannette’s fantastic. She’s just the best. She’s super thorough. And the nice thing about working with Jeannette – she doesn’t shut you down. Even if she’s going to eventually shut you down, she won’t shut you down right off the top [laughs] so you can work through, as an actor if you’re struggling over, “I don’t know why I would do this, or why I would say this,” and you’re working through that, she’ll sit there with you, while you’re standing there, and you’re like “Is it because of this? Is it because of that”- she’s so patient. She’ll just sit there and work through the hardest spot, like you would work through, ooh this is such a weird reference, but like, a bad tangle, like you know when you were a kid and you got like a matte in your hair and your mom would like sit there and slowly work? That’s exactly how she’d work. She’s patient. And she gives you the time that you ask for. 

CG: She also gives you a lot of stuff ahead of time, to have in your back pocket. Like there were, what, two or three sessions before we even got on our feet, where we were just, talk talk talk talk talk, making notes, talking, and being able to break it down, so that when we actually got back to it we would be like, “Oh right, this is the section where…” which was awesome. To know where everybody in the room is eventually headed, rather than going “oooh, let’s just, let’s just see what happens! You know, just give it a whirl!”

AC: I’ve worked with her a few times, and she’s the only person I’ve ever worked with where I definitely leave a better actor than I was when I went into the project. So that’s why it’s really exciting to work with her, because she just really understands people, and gets it. She reads the script a lot, figures out what’s going on, and just knows. And whether she’s hiding it from you, when she’s letting you figure it out, kind of letting you get there yourself, she just kind of waits for the penny to drop. And then when it does she’s like, “Yep, yep.” And then you just go forward. And like Gabriella said, she’s very patient that way. She won’t tell you what it is, but she’s always got it figured out, she knows, she understands the conversation. That’s always happening. And then when you get there, you just, act, better. It’s like, you just can’t not be a better actor when you get to that point.

CG: “Um, okay.” is usually the sign that you’re not there yet. “Um, okay.” So you know, you go “So, there’s something more to think about there.” When you get that from her. 

KM: Jeannette is so deeply intelligent, meticulous, and passionate, and when she sent me a message saying “do you want to work on a pro–”  like, I stopped her there, I was like “YES!” I have never met anyone in my life who inspires passion the way that Jeannette inspires me to be passionate about what I do. And she’s a powerhouse. She also knows the actor’s process. A lot of directors don’t, or have varying degrees of understanding of what that is – that’s a generalization, but Jeannette works with actors first. And gives you that space to be bad at first. Gives you that space to get up there and stink. Stink at acting, because she knows that’s part of the process. And allows you a lot of space to ask questions, allows you a lot of space to just sit and talk, which is sometimes part of the process. But the thing overall that inspires me most of all about Jeannette is to work with such a powerhouse director who is experienced, deeply intelligent, and deeply passionate.

GC: That’s so true. She’s so passionate that when you’re in rehearsal, and you’re working on a scene, she’s leaning forward in her chair, and she’s mouthing the words with you, because she is so into what you’re doing. And I think, as an actor, there are few feelings better- that’s such a great way of knowing that someone is on your side, and they’re into what you’re doing, and they care about it just as much as you care about it. That’s such an important part of the way she works. She really cares. And she cares about the actor’s process. Everybody’s process. And she will adjust to make sure that you have the things that you need. She’s so prepared- 

KM: Yeah. Her attention to detail means that, as an actor, I can chill out, because I know that I’m in good hands.

SF: I brought that up with her the other day, about how she does that, how she gets right into it- it’s not always words, she will sometimes like mouth a word or something, but she puts herself in the scene, every single character- and she went white. She was like, “I don’t do that.” [laughs] And I was like, “yes you do! It’s not a bad thing, it’s a wonderful thing, it’s so inspiring”. 

KM: That thing that changes the scenes- that clonk thing, when we hit a block with a stick- we used it in rehearsal as well, because a lot of the lines were just little isolated words, so often it was her job in rehearsal to hit the ‘clonk’ – and we were relying on it for our cues. She missed it so many times when it was her job! There were a couple times just because indie theatre, and the stage manager couldn’t be there, where Jeannette had to do all the clonking, and just – “Oh shit!” – because she was just… with you. And, “Oh shoot, we have to do it again, I’m sorry everyone!” because she is so there with you.

GC: She’s on your team. You never feel like you’re going to get to opening night and she’s going to be thinking, “Oh my god, these actors suck” or whatever. She’s on your team. Like, if you’re all triumphant then you’re all triumphant, and if you all go down then you all go down together. She’s on your side and she’s on your team always.

Gabriella and Adam, you’re pretty young to have a kid that old. Did that factor into how you approached the role and how they would have been as parents?

GC: Oh yeah, totally. Jeannette and I talked a lot about that, about the fact that our marriage is a product of the fact that we got married really young. And then we had a kid and we thought everything was going to go a certain way and it’s a very tough realization, you know, when you’re in your early twenties, and you’re like, “I got married to someone, because you know, we were in love and the sex was great-” and now you’re like, “Oh no. I had a kid and this was a bad idea.”

AC: After we had that discussion, I didn’t think much about the age anymore. I definitely was just 33 and had a kid when I was, you know, 24. But thank you for telling me I look young [laughs]. I still feel weird playing someone old enough to have children. Like, I’ve played people on TV who have kids, and it’s a weird thing, because I still think of myself as being in theatre school, playing an old man [laughs], you know what I mean? I can have children now, I can just be myself. 

KM: You’ve been able to have children for a number of years now. [laughs]

AC: Every once in awhile it dawns on me that I’m turning 34 and, yeah, that’s old.

Kaitlin, how much did you think about exactly what it is to be nine?

KM: A lot. You know, to be nine and to grow up in that environment, as we said before, where a lot of the impulse comes from, where the aggression comes from, and the need for stuff comes from, and that passion for stuff. I remember Christmases, and really, really wanting stuff, and that being so important. It’s so much less important to me now. That age where you really are surprised by death, you never would have had those conversations. You really are excited to see a movie that’s PG-18, that’s like the biggest deal in the whole world to you. It’s like, “eh, I’m not interested in 14 because I’m almost 14”, but “18! Holy crap!” It was a really fun exercise to try to get inside the head of a kid. And a damaged kid. That wasn’t fun, but that was really interesting. I had a great time doing that.

What about Man on Train, how old was he?

SF: Man on Train was 27. [laughs]. He has many hopes and dreams.

What are you each doing now, and what’s your next project?

KM: Lots of things, mostly producing shows with Sex T Rex. We’ve got several monthly improv shows that we’re doing, then the big big project is we’re doing kind of a Western tour- we’re doing Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver, so far. So far. With Swordplay. Ooh, and a puppet show at the Toronto Fringe. Something very very different. It’s going to be called Bendy Sign Tavern, it’s going to be at the Paddock, as a site specific. Sex T Rex has never done a site-specific before. It’s because we didn’t get into the Fringe. We were like, “uh, yeah, right – we’re getting into the Fringe! I don’t care” So we’re going to do a site-specific around the Paddock about a bunch of puppets just trying to be human. Just trying to do what we would normally see in a bar environment except that the reality is that they’re all puppets and so sometimes the sandwiches talk and sometimes, you know. There’s spiders in the basement, and they attack.

Do those guys do puppetry or do you have to teach everybody?

KM: Well this is actually, we’re reworking a show that I wrote in 2012, before I was a member of Sex T Rex, for an old competition called Pilot Week – that we won! But, that was a long time ago. And it’s been sitting in my closet for a long time. And it’s just dusting off the puppets and we’re going to rewrite it completely. Very very very excited about that project. Most people who know Sex T Rex, it’s a lot of action/ genre stuff, and this is going to be completely, completely different from anything we’ve done before.

GC: Right right now, I’m writing a web series with Scott. And soon I’m going to be going to Thunder Bay, to Magnus, to do Of Human Bondage. I will be performing the role of Mildred; I like a good mean woman, not gonna lie. [laughs] I think that says enough about me.

SF: That’s very funny. I don’t really have anything solidified yet, but there’s a lot of things up in the air. I’m doing a lot writing projects and then there’s a couple projects that just haven’t come through with contracts, that I can’t really talk about. And that’s it, really. I’ve been improvising a lot more this year. Doing a show at the John Candy Box Theatre tomorrow night and a show at the SoCap on Saturday, so that’s very immediate. Come out to those.

CG: Right after My Child closed, I went up to Stirling Festival Theatre to replace one of the actresses in the panto there, so I just finished doing pantomime stuff, which was fabulous. Being thrown in after five days of rehearsal was slightly frightening, but it was fun. And right now I’m about to go home and pack for a trip with my parents to Cuba on Saturday. And after that it’s pretty wide open. I’m doing a fair amount of admin work right now and just waiting to see what pops up. You know, all of the things are in, all of the phone calls are in, so you just got to wait and see.

Does anyone have anything they want to add?

GC: Thanks for coming to see the show–

KM: That’s the whole point, it doesn’t exist without people seeing it, and can’t get the word out without people like you spreading the word–To have bodies like this that recognize productions that are big and small, and generally make it their job to get out and spread the word, no matter the size of this production – it’s the lifeblood. Fringe is very different, because then you are under the larger umbrella of a festival, but when you self-produce, getting 60 people out is hard. Getting the word out is hardest thing. There’s so much noise, it’s such a big city. And when there’s thoughtful feedback, positive and negative, it elevates all of us. It’s so important. Please keep doing this, oh my god.

CG: It also has been a lovely nod to the people who supported us, because we did that fundraiser, and all of the people who donated or donated items, I went around the office and said, “oh by the way, we’ve been nominated”, and they’re like, “That is awesome! I helped out this company to produce a play that is being recognized”. That is another nod to their generosity and to the fact that enough of them came to see the show and said, “rightly so, it should be”.

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