One of my favourite productions out of the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival was Gillian Bartolucci’s Outstanding Solo Performance-nominated one woman sketch show The Weight of it All. Beautifully constructed with a perfect blend of high-octane fun, clever commentary, and brutal honesty, I’m still thinking about Gillian’s technically impressive and emotionally wrought performance.
Can you remember your first experience with theatre?
I’d say it was probably growing up as a competitive dancer. I learned a lot about storytelling and how to ground myself. Especially when it came to improvisation through dance, that trained me how to be present for sure.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I watched the movie Grease when I was six and there was no looking back!!
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever performed?
Dare I say The Weight of It All is the best role I’ve ever performed. It’s a very nice thing to say words that you’ve written. And even nicer when people relate to it.
Do you have a dream role you’d still like to play one day?
Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. The heaviness of that play feels exhausting, but I go back to it a lot. I think it’s like The Bell Jar of the stage. Oh, I want to do it! I have no idea who would direct that, and I would definitely need a therapist on standby.
You’re nominated in the solo performance category this year. What is it about solo shows that draws you to that medium?
There’s pros and cons to it. I really like being alone on stage, in the way that I liked public speaking as a kid. I like delivering a lot of information, and being responsible for how it goes. My first solo show was more a challenge of me proving to myself that I was deserving of an audience’s attention. I had to prove I had enough to say and enough in the tank to go that long. It’s a very personal experience that can be very rewarding. And I’m too afraid to skydive, so a solo performance is my way to seek thrill. But you also don’t have a partner to share the highs or bounce back from the lows with, and that can be hard. I also get incredibly nervous before I go on stage, and prefer to share my nerves with someone else. But you learn a lot about yourself as a performer when you are solo. There’s no breaks, and you can’t hide. Once you go on stage, you don’t come off until it’s over. Eeeee! Scary! But scheduling when it’s a solo show? What a dream!
Tell us about the creation process for The Weight of it All.
Ooh I’m gonna try and keep this one short, but basically my name got drawn in the Fringe lottery, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do another solo show this time around. I really didn’t have any idea what I wanted to write about. Around the same time I got tossed around a doctor’s office until I finally found out that I had a fibroid in my uterus. The experience was traumatic and while going through that I considered writing about it. But if I were to write a show on that it would mean I’d have to get real honest about living the majority of my life with a completely fucked up relationship towards food and my own body image. So that was off the table for a bit. And then my fear around that whole subject got built up so much until I just gave in and thought, what’s the worst that can happen. And if I’m going to talk about disordered eating, I’m gonna talk about hormone imbalances, and if I talk about hormone imbalances then I need to talk about infertility, and if I talk about infertility then I need to talk about the current sex ed curriculum, and it goes on and on. In the end I am obviously so happy that I decided to make this show. And I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else, but Carly Heffernan to direct it.
The show is really funny and lighthearted but also tackles some really big emotional issues. How did you go about layering in those weightier pieces?
Ooh love this Q. Hmm… I am truly okay with feeling uncomfortable onstage. And when someone takes the time out of their day to come see ME!? Well it is my job to take care of them. So if I’m in charge of getting the audience through something that is emotional or uncomfortable, I will always support it with a line or joke that will put them at ease. There are weightier pieces, but it all comes from things I’ve felt or thought, and so somebody else must experience those things too. So it’s kind of relieving to share that with the audience and find the funny in it. The best advice I was ever told was in theatre school and it was to always tell the truth, it’s the easiest thing to remember. Which doesn’t make it the easiest thing to do, but it helps when you can find a laugh in it. Does that make sense???
Tell us about working with director Carly Heffernan.
Oh man. I feel like, indebted to Carly. She is just the best at what she does. We’ve worked together on past shows since 2014 so I feel like we just understand each other very well and work efficiently. When I came to her with this half thought out idea for a show, she just knew the right questions to ask in order to get the right material out of me. I think before we even started writing she got like 50 premises from me. And these are half-thoughts of course, but Carly can take anything and turn it into something polished with a strong point of view and a lot of jokes. So much about comedy I’ve learned from her. I really love her and she is so special to me and a wonderful person to have in your corner.
Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
There’s a sketch about sex-ed class and the premise is me telling the class things I wish I was told in my sex-ed class growing up. There’s a lot of information that spews from my mouth, and it’s underscored by horror music, and it all builds up to the line “I’m supposed to teach you how to avoid getting pregnant like it’s the plague, but I’m not supposed to teach you how to handle having a miscarriage.” I like that moment because it’s heavy and uncomfortable, and it’s the truth. And we sit in that for a second, until I make it better with a joke! See? Easy trick!
You’ve done the Fringe quite a few times. What are some of the challenges and rewards of producing in that model?
I think just financially the Fringe is such a great opportunity. I wouldn’t be able to afford any of the venues if it weren’t for the Fringe taking care of it. It’s expensive to rent theatres and put on your own show. I haven’t really figured that part out yet. But the Fringe literally has a whole staff of people that is in your corner and there to help you succeed. So you don’t have that when you are producing elsewhere. Challenges I face in general whether it’s Fringe or not is flyering and getting people out to your show. I find soliciting extremely uncomfortable, so I’m very lucky the show had some nice reviews that made people interested. That being said, I’ve had every N from NOW Magazine from N to NNNNN and I’m alive to tell the tale! Phewf!
What are you working on now/next?
I just finished writing a few episodes of This Hour Has 22 Minutes! So I’m learning lots about writing and comedy. I’ll be remounting The Weight of It All three times at the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival March 12 to 14. More info HERE.
Other than that I am just open to the next lil gig whatever that may be.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for including me. Often times sketch comedy doesn’t get recognition when it comes to theatre. But sketch comedy is theatre. We play characters, we have point of view, we tell stories, we provoke thought, we reflect our world around us. I would love to see more people come out and see sketch comedy!