Outstanding Performance in a Musical nominee Scott Garland is delightful and he has lots of delightful stories to share about touring with Three Men in a Boat and handing Neil Patrick Harris a chainsaw and hosting Sing for your Supper with the incomparable Kat Letwin. There are lots of reasons to read this interview but the best reason is that a couple paragraphs from the end you will find an embedded audio clip of Scott doing Muppet impressions and that’s my literal favourite thing to happen in 100+ interviews in this series.
Do you remember your first experience with theatre?
It’s tricky because I grew up in Northern Alberta in a small town so I didn’t actually see my first full length play until I was going to college for acting at the age of 17. That was Comedy of Errors. I loved it. It was great. In fact it was done very interestingly they set it in the town of Edmontonia versus Calgaria and it was on a big forced perspective stage and one of the back and forths when they do to the door to try to like “let me in the door” they turned it into to a fucking rap. [laughs] and every time I describe it people are like, “That sounds terrible.” It worked. [laughs]
But I guess my first theatrical experience so it’s really meaningful was my parents took me to the Edmonton Fringe when I was sixteen because I wasn’t very interested in things and they were like… they had been active in offering me a lot of things: music lessons, I was in sports, martial arts, a whole bunch of different things and finally they were like, “Well let’s take him up for a vacation up to the Edmonton Fringe “and I had not heard a damn thing about it and neither of my parents were particularly artistic, they were both military people but they got me in and if ever they, they’ve been very supportive since I got the bug and saw a show called One Man Show…which was not a one many show, it was a four man show that was the joke, and I just sopped up as much theatre as I could and I just became a frequent Fringer and from that blossomed into doing three different theatre programs because I had a lot of catching up to do.
Which programs did you do?
The now defunct Acting Program at Keyano College in Fort McMurray which was a two year program, I’m very appreciative of that it exposed me to so much theatre and a lot of amazing Canadian Artists. Jonathan Christenson work shopped his show Frankenstein there which just toured globally and still holds a special place in my heart. I met Vern Thiessen there who directed me in a production of Treasure Island and again just I say that name when I went to Edmonton after that to the next program the University of Alberta. I got my BA in Drama and English there. That was interesting, that program I was most thankful for the time in the Music Department actually because it really informed what I as an actor or writer had to do to become better. Which is have the same discipline as singers and musicians do. There wasn’t anyone in that room that hadn’t worked on their scales. There wasn’t anyone in that room that wasn’t entirely focused and help responsible for their part. My favourite thing that being in a choir of the in the Madrigal Singers while I was there my favourite practice they do while running through a song and conducting. If anyone of the singers messes up a note or does something off they just raise their hand and then they put it down and the conductor acknowledges it and they keep going. Nobody stops, nothing stops because they have acknowledged it and that kind of responsibility I feel is probably is one of the greatest gifts one can have for a collaborative effort. And finally last but not least I went to George Brown College here in Toronto. I auditioned for every program in the country and they were the only to take me. [laughs]
And what did you get from that experience?
Hardcore discipline, stamina, both creative stamina and physical stamina. They put you through the ringer. They are very much based off of they do the classical theatre training method but also they they delve a lot into the Stanislavski teachings which are in his fictional account of the “actor prepares” kind of thing. He speaks for first hand of the fictional account of this actor going through a theatre program and they really, I read it after the fact and just oh you take it from this film. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best but what I did appreciate is being able to. I suppose the greatest thing I got from that was simply like I said was stamina. They run you six days a week. The seventh day is just you working. They do this thing called a period study which is essentially you have to do six to seven classical plays, chunks, like huge chunks of six to seven classical plays from one period. You rehearse it over six weeks and then at the end of it you do it all in a day and it’s essentially a big; it’s to get you in the mindset of being a repertoirian actor. So I really appreciated them having that in it. But getting distance from not just from that theatre program but all the theatre programs was probably the best gift. Actually you know what I can say this the greatest thing that George Brown got for me was working with Sue Miner and Mark Brownell because then I worked with them after the fact in Three Men in a Boat. [laughs]
When did you start singing?
I started singing before I was acting because when I went to the Fringe, I checked all the programs, most people that were in them were graduates of the musical theatre program at Grant MacEwan in Edmonton and I thought, “Wow clearly if I want to do this and I wanted to do that I’d have better get into that program”. It was a Musical Theatre program and they needed singers and I never hummed a note in my life. So I started taking singing lessons while I had braces and I kind of sang ever since. I mean in one way or another I classify myself as a lazy or an unpracticed, classically trained singer because while I, so I sang all through college, we had private singing coaching so then when I went to the University of Alberta I took private coaching and as I said I was in the music department and actually was in an opera workshop with Brian Macintosh who was this amazing baritone singer, internationally recognized. I think he’s retired now but wonderful man, sweet man and then again there I am singing friggin Peter Quince in the Midsummers Night Dream opera. We did Handel’s Messiah, beautiful beautiful songs and classical pieces and oh my God. It’s not until you step back from it that you realize just like I was spoiled. Then I came here and I continued to sing but like I never considered myself a singer until this nomination.
How did you get involved in Three Men in a Boat, which is a very singing-heavy show?
Pure luck. Mark Brownell had been working on the script for Three Men in a Boat for a couple of years. It’s based off of a novel of the same name Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, and it’s got like a sub-cult, like I didn’t realize how popular this book was until we started performing. So he’d originally written it I think twenty years ago but with himself and his two friends in mind, but as time went on they didn’t find a place for it. You can’t really write a grant for a play based off of a British novel. There isn’t a place for it. There isn’t any theatres that mandate that kind of thing and then when I was going through George Brown College, Sue Minor directed us in second year and Mark Brownell taught us theatre history and play analysis and he met both myself and one of my cast mates Matt Pilipiak there and apparently the gears started turning in his head and he started thinking like, “Well maybe I could work with these guys”. Then they got into the Fringe, the Toronto Fringe and he said “Now or never. Let’s do this play.” He cites my, this is what’s fascinating of everything I did at theatre school, he cites me doing my theatre history project on Brecht as why he wanted me to be in the show.
I don’t know. Essentially we did this thing where we were talking about Brecht and we set it as a lawyers defence of Brecht because Brecht was very much accused of trying to like mislead the youth or cause public disturbances kind of thing. So I set myself up as the lawyer defending Brecht and then I got a final speech where I was defending him but also condemning him at the same time. Sort of being like you accuse him of disrupting social awareness etc. You know what? You’re right. He is. [laughs] But it’s a good thing. I can’t really even remember what I did, but let that go to show anyone that you never know what is gonna get you in any room or what’s gonna lead to what, so just always, always look for opportunities to do something with your whole heart in it because the worst thing that can happen is nothing comes from it but in that case you’ve done something you love. If something comes from it that’s a bonus.
How has the production changed in its various incarnations?
Oh my God. Well, okay, so the original product that we did at the Toronto Fringe that went on to the Best of Fringe and then went on to Mumbai, India, that was all a sixty minute production. After that, we were commissioned to do a two act version in Bobcaygeon. That one was interesting because now you have a two act with an intermission, so our little one act routine where we do the flips and the quips and the entire thing is very [makes ticking noise] quick. Now we actually had to have places characters could take a break and also something the audience themselves would follow without being exhausted. So there’s that, and then we also have a ninety- I’ll say eighty minute depending on how fast we are- we have an eighty minute version that we’ve premiered at the Edmonton Fringe. So currently we have three different iterations of the show.
Do you ever find yourself mixing them up or going down the wrong track?
We have safe words just in case. Because the nature of the show is that it is several little vignettes that occur upon a journey, if, say, Matt who plays Jay, if Matt finds himself beginning to go into a diatribe or another story “…and then we went to this place” then Victor [Pokinko] who plays George will come in and be like “Oh we don’t have time for that!” [laughs] It’s like “What are you doing Jay!” We have safe words to be like… “Where do you think you are right now?” The characters always find their way back . It’s beautiful.
What are some of your favourite memories of touring the show?
Oh lord, it’s my favourite thing I’ve done. God, I mean we have a lot of sentimental love for when we look it to Mumbai India. Obviously the entire time we were preparing for that, for going up to there and none of us, like everything we did in preparation for it was just like, “Oh yeah we’re going to India. Oh yeah let’s go get our passport we’re going to India. Oh we better get our visa permit so we can perform in India”, and I don’t think it was until the plane started taking off we were like… “Guys we’re going to India”. [laughs] And it was special for me because I was turning twenty-seven on the flight over. So I turned twenty-seven and it rolled over within a nineteen hour span. I had the shortest birthday because we were flying. We arrived and they treated us lovely. We did three shows. Two in one day at the smaller theatre and the third performance we did at the Tata and that is the largest venue I have ever performed in. They had stage mics; we ended up scratching the stage mics because we have old-timey shoes with hard soles. But I remember we were waiting for the performance to start in this 1500+ seat theatre, it’s packed to the brim, it’s over sold, like we’re turning people away. We’re waiting backstage and we don’t have a direct line of communication from our technician so we’re just waiting, we’re prepping, we’re warming up, and we’re like, we’re a unit because we’ve worked so in tandem together. We love each other. We love the piece and we love Sue and Mark so we always try to dedicate a show to them or something and like we’re getting ready. We’re getting the motor going and none of us say anything or acknowledge anything but we’re all just like feeling like this is taking a while. Unbeknownst to us they’ve had to delay the show something like twenty to forty minutes because some of the higher ups like I think the ambassador to Britain, like people of honour are delayed from dinner. So we’re just waiting on them and we don’t know this, and we’re just like so essentially the nervous rush again before a show as all performers know. That extended along a very long moment of time and none of us thinking to look at our watch or messenger, because we all have our phones -should we text? Nope. Just get in the zone. Just get in the zone. Just get in the zone for twenty long damn minutes. But we do the show. It is, it is an unreal situation and they they know the book better then we do. So there are parts in it that they are just guffawing at. We’re not that funny. Me and Victor have a joke that got an applause break that Matt absolutely refuses to acknowledge, but it happened. Sorry, Matt, if you’re reading this, it happened. Oh yes it did. And me and Victor will remind you every time. I loved it because we did the show, they treated us wonderfully, the audience was beautiful it was a warm house, unforgettable experience. At the end of the show our dressing room got broken into by fans who wanted pictures with the dog. All three of us had different dressing rooms and Matt had the dog. So they all broke into his dressing room being like “Oh my God you were so amazing.” And Matt’s like half naked trying to be like “Uh..uh…” We felt like rock stars! It was amazing!
Tell us a little bit about Matt and Victor who are the other two men in the boat.
Oh um…they’re quite boring fellows. [laughs] They’re amazing, they both have traits which I am envious of and aspire to.
Matt plays Jay who is mostly the narrator of the entire show. He has the most dialogue in all three iterations and again he has to memorize those three shows in his head. He’s from Saskatchewan so he and I bonded because we both are kind of like Western boys, prairie folk who then came to Toronto, the big city, to live. We actually went to theatre school together, so he’s been a dear friend of mine since then.
Victor we didn’t actually meet until Three Men in a Boat. He actually wasn’t originally in Three Men in a Boat. We had an entirely different cast but unfortunately there was an accident and [the original actor] broke his foot so we had to replace him last minute, so Victor came on board. Sue had taught him at U of T Sheridan and she was like “Oh he’s lovely and I just saw him on the street, we’re neighbours.” And he came on board. We’ve stayed with his family when we’ve performed in Ottawa. He’s a fast friend of mine as well. Just a lovely fellow. Musically talented. This is why it’s interesting that I’m nominated for an award because those two are much more musically talented then I am. [laughs] Because Victor is an accomplished pianist and Matt has actually taken intensive music theatre training, so I am going to hold this over them. They are both lovely, they both have better ears for harmonies than myself. I’m often leaning on them for help. Both very talented, smart guys. Couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather work with.
Where would you like to see the show go from here?
Uh, everywhere. No, now that we’ve done all the Fringes we can with it and we have three different versions and we’ve performed for so many varying sizes, we aim to take it on the road. We are currently building a miniature tour of North Ontario this summer. We’re still confirming dates but in August we’ll be hitting Sudbury with Yes Theatre. We’ve got two other stops, one just outside of the Brampton, the Waterfront Festival. There is a theatre up there in Minden and another place that escapes me as well as other theatres we’re in talks with but we’ll see when we see.
What makes it so difficult to perform a comic song?
Well, it’s fascinating because it’s not just performing a comic song, it’s performing a comic song badly but not poorly if that makes sense. So essentially the set up is that “Harris only knows one song, it’s a comic song”. Harris believes he’s singing one song. He’s not. So he opens up with “I’m singing the judge’s song from Penzance. You may all join in at the chorus, maestro if you please.” And then [makes music noise] he mixes up the words, because many of the patter songs from Gilbert and Sullivan all sound the same.
Do you have a favourite moment in the production or three different productions?
Oh man all three of them, we all have the same favourite moment. If you had them all here they’d all say the same thing because it’s consistent. We get to the top spot with a tin of pineapple. It’s really, it’s a moment in the show that I really think, it makes the story universal, like obviously we’re three British dandys at the end of the Victorian Era. We’re all going up the River Thames -like how could a Canadian audience, how could a rural or urban Canadian audience relate to these people? It’s the camping story and we get to this point where we’re all quite tired and ragged. We’ve had a night out, under the stars, we’re all just drowsy. Breakfast has been ruined, but don’t worry we have our tin of pineapple. We’re going to eat it. It’s going to be great. Where is the can opener? And then everything goes to hell. Everyone can sympathize with that.
And the way that Sue has staged it with the lighting design, the sound design, it’s just it’s this weird, absurd, bizarre, just like this explosion in slow motion, but instead of fire you have like gravy. It’s very weird but it’s so fun to do and it’s so fun to watch. It’s a beautiful unifying moment. [laughs]
This summer at the Fringe, you did Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre.
Yes we did.
And Neil Patrick Harris Came to see it.
Yeah he did!
What was that experience like? The show and the Neil Patrick Harris part.
It was interesting because I have to thank Kat Sandler for that because she got in touch with him over Twitter and she said, “You should come see my show” and he was like, “Yeah I’m actually interested in seeing a couple shows; this Romeo Juliet Chain Massacre seems interesting.”
He just read the listings?
Yeah and I mean Neil’s got a theatrical background so he knows how to look through to be able to find that stuff and yeah Kat Sandler phoned me and woke me up at the like the crack of noon because it was the summer and I was in Fringe mode, so I was quite drowsy and she was like “How many shows do you have left? When can Neil Patrick Harris see your show?” [shrieks] “I will put you in touch with a producer Rebecca Perry” and then they sorted that out but then performing for him was fun. I mean it was stressful because we weren’t allowed to talk about it, like we weren’t allowed to talk about it at large and I don’t think everyone in the cast knew and I don’t know whose job it was to tell everyone but I remember warming up for the show like there was definitely a tension no one could acknowledge and we’re like a cast of thirteen so that’s a lot of tension! Um but no, it was lovely and he was great. He came in after the show and I was so awkward. Out of everyone, I was the most awkward because like I was, spoiler alert to anyone who hasn’t seen the show, I’m the killer, so I’ve just been having a chain saw dual fight with Nicholas Borges and Brittany Kay. I’m sweating like a dog and I’ve got this cloak on and we wanted to get a picture with him and Neil’s like, “I’m game” so he comes on and I’m rushed to get into some costume that’s not just a big sack and he goes up to everyone and says “Hi I’m Neil.” And he gets up to me and I’m like “Hi, here is a chainsaw” because I had it in my head he’s going to hold a chain saw and I’ll be in the middle. Didn’t tell him my name. Didn’t tell him anything like that. I was just like,”Here is a chainsaw”. I could have been like, “Why, I know who you are”, but nothing, just friggen nothing. I wasn’t even that excited to meet him. I was like “Oh that that’ll be cool”, nope just made an idiot of myself. [laughs]
You recently did your last show as the host of Storefront’s Sing for your Supper. What was the most memorable moment of that tenure?
Every night was such an adrenaline rush because I’d plan it and any plans I’d make would have to be changed on the fly. At the end of the day somebody couldn’t make it or if a writer pulled a script or something like that or lord forbid I would have to write a script. I’m working on a play right now because I had some scenes I had to submit last minute for Sing for your Supper as filler. You know what my favourite, and I’ll thank Sing for Your Supper for this forever, when Sex T-Rex was doing it’s double bill at the Storefront, I’d often encourage any shows at the Storefront, or in the community at large, if they have upcoming productions, to please stop by to do a preview or do a promo of any kind. So Sex T-Rex showed up and they did the first scene from both of the plays they were doing at the time: Swordplay: a Play of Swords and Watch Out WildKat. They did them back to back and that was, I’ve never seen a Sex T-Rex show before and I just done a little work with Kaitlin’s dad, Jim Morrow at their upstairs space in Nova Scotia and the way he spoke of it was like they have really interesting work and I’m like, “Really, it’s like sketch comedy and puppetry. I don’t know what they can do with it”, and then [explosion noise] I saw it and it blew my God damned mind. It was beautiful, it was everything I love about theatre. It was just wonderful story telling and story telling told from love, like they’re obviously delving into these genres but like they’re doing it from a place of just like yeah no we love Westerns we love RPG video games are you kidding me? Um so they just showed up and did that and the entire room was like YESS. It was everything I wanted Sing for your Supper to be, a little bit of a variety show for theatre. We’re all just up here playing around with scripts and everyone’s getting their moment to shine. So good! Good times!
I encourage everyone to submit and attend and support Sing for your Supper. I don’t say this as any disparagement to me but I think it’ll actually run better now that I’ve left because I’ve replaced myself with some very competent and very inspiring upcoming talents. Cameron Wyllie is a much more accomplished host and performer then I am and he has much more experience producing with Toronto Sketchfest, which I was just producing Sing for your Supper because it was something to do, they needed someone to do it and I said “I’ll take it.” Kat Letwin is always on fire. Always! She’s on fire. Put her out. No she’s an amazing talent and again she has so much heart that she pours into that and Marissa Heintzman is doing administrative personnel for that and herself she has more much more experience on a dramaturgical administrative side then I do. She got her masters at University of Glasgow for God sakes I’m sitting over here with a BA.
As you mentioned you are a playwright as well. Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on right now.
This year I’m fortunate enough to be part of the Storefront Theatre’s playwrights unit. It’s their second year doing it. I pitched a couple of projects to them and they bid on one. So I’m currently delving into the world of science fiction. The working title is The Search for the Last Earthling. It’s set in our lovely blue dot on it’s last few days before the end of the earth. It’s a comedy, don’t worry, and a universal conservationist group is coming to the planet to find and preserve the last pure earthling, like earth human, who they got a distress call from. So much like if people were pandas and a panda was like, “Help me I’m last one” and we were the one to go pick them up. Essentially that but on a universal scale and then they will traverse the ruins of the old world, it’s final days and hopefully people will laugh.
So, Googling you brings up a resume. Reading that resume reveals a special skills section. It claims that you can do multiple Muppet voices in addition to eight accents. Can I please hear a Muppet voice?
Sure. [clears throat]
Are you just a really big Muppet fan?
Aw, I’m such a Muppet fan yeah! I have a passion for voice acting and only this past year have I started working in that field and I love it so much. And I mean, with the Muppets, you grow up with some of them, you hear it enough… my favourite movie is Muppets Treasure Island. [laughs]
What are you doing now/what’s your next project?
That’s a good question. I’m workshopping a kids show with Bad Hats Theatre. Right now we’re in development of staging a children’s book called Princess Frownsalot adapted by Fiona Sauder and I’ll be working with the Three Men in that so we’ll see where that goes. Like I said, I’m writing, writing, putting off writing, but I will be writing. I’m writing a sci-fi play that will probably be read at this year’s Indie 6ix which is the annual reading week-long festival that the playwrights unit hosts through Storefront Theatre. That’ll go up in June I believe, if we stay on target. And obviously auditioning, auditioning, auditioning. I just went double union so I’m Actra and Equity. So hopefully something comes of that. [laughs] And Three Men in a Boat obviously we’re doing some shows this summer. I’m trying to write a web series with Tom McGee and Megan Miles right now that I’m really excited about and we’ve been in the works for that for a bit. And I’m hoping to work a little bit with Mark Brownell on another script, something might come of it something might not. We don’t know, hopefully it will.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to thank you for not only these interviews but for the MyTheatre Awards. At my last night of Sing for your Supper, I had to announce the Storefront closing and there was a lot of shock and dismay with that, but I’ve never really been depressed by the news, because- Kat said it more eloquently than I, that a church is not it’s building, it’s its people. What I’ve striven for with Sing for your Supper is something that I think you have accomplished with My Entertainment World and the MyTheatre Awards is a capital C community. And, I mean, that’s really all we have, especially in indie theatre, and the higher ups, the established leaders very much appreciate it the more they kind of see it. My favourite poet said it best “The most terrifying part of the phrase ‘we are facing crisis’ is not the word ‘crisis’ it is the word ‘we’ because it takes the responsibility off the shoulders of one and places it on the shoulders of many.” That’s the power of community and so I wanted to thank you for inspiring that and doing the work that I tried and I hope will continue to prevail.