Eric and I met awhile ago now, about four years ago when we were working with a small Boal-inspired, forum-based theatre company. One of the best things to come from that experience, and probably what has become my favourite, was meeting Eric. The only way I know how to describe Eric is, “as a guy who likes to laugh.” Every time we’re together, this is the thing I remember most: laughing. I was happy to be able to write a character for Eric to act in the past that just allowed him to play, and now, I’m happy he’s stumbled, almost by accident, into the studio I work with in Toronto, hub14.
Hearing and reading about Blackbird makes me so curious, so excited for Eric because he’s not only cast in a challenging, somewhat uncharacteristic role, but is also one of the instigators making this production a reality. And I can’t wait to see what happens.
Blackbird opens this Friday, March 14th at hub14.
But before then, let’s learn a bit more about one of its key players with dossier #29:
Who are we talking to?
What gets you going in the morning?
Knowing I got a job in what I love to do (a touring kid’s show) and that I have a current project going on. i.e Blackbird. The kid’s show and commercials pay the bills, but theatre feeds the soul.
What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, I need, or want, to do this with my life?
Well, early on I went to a pretty strict Catholic French school, St. Rene Goupil. This place had its own School board and you were only allowed to speak in French. I got in trouble a lot just by my nature and was constantly told to smarten up by the teachers. When the class was having a test it was quiet and, naturally, I would make some offhand remark aloud about one of the questions and the class’d laugh; it felt good to get those laughs even at the cost of being thrown out, detention or deducted marks. In Grade 6, they brought in Improv and I loved it! I found an avenue for my energy and natural ability to make people laugh; I found it to be the only thing I was good at. That, and presentations. I liked speaking out loud, having my voice heard. I think that was probably the beginning of it.
Have there been times you seriously question why you pursue this lifestyle/art form? If so, what was it that kept you in it, or brought you back?
I never question why I do it, I question what is the next thing that I have to do to further my career. As soon as I get a gig or am working on a project I put heart and soul in to it, I’m able to enjoy it and love working with new people. When its done I want to find that experience again. What keeps me in it is the hunger for new characters, telling stories and it’s always a new experience with each project. I’m very nomadic, especially with my job of touring Canada. Acting is a profession that works for nomads: where am I off to next? I go where the work is and I don’t like standing still.
It’s an intense show. Very visceral. It’s written really well and the language kind of juxtaposes what’s happening with the characters. When I first read it it hit me in the gut; it moved me. And that’s the kind of theatre I wanna do: theatre that punches people, pushes buttons all the way to the back of the room. Unless I’m doing a comedy which should make them laugh all the way to the back. It has an intention: it tells a beautiful dark love story that’s relatable. It seemed very challenging. But possible. So we jumped in, feet first!
Isn’t there another play called Blackbird?
Yes there is. There’s Blackbird by David Harrower which is also a male female two-hander. Oddly enough more people seem to think of this show first before the Adam Rapp Blackbird. Which is nice ’cause I’m glad not everyone has heard of Rapp’s Blackbird. It seems to be the rarer of the two.
How did your collective of artists form? Who’s idea was it, to put this show together?
Blackbird came about in a few ways. One, my touring gig is fun but not character satisfying. I also don’t want it to become my life. I yearn for more so I was looking for a project to do. Enter Alona Metzer. We met through Ryerson simulations and she had asked me to write something for us, preferably a screenplay. I thought about it but was into writing other things. So I came back to her and said how ’bout a play? She was game. We read a couple of shows and Alona had brought Blackbird to the table and we decided on it. Then we just had to find a director we met with a few people that I thought would be interested. I approached TJ Cheslea. He was a guy who came from co-coaching an acting studio. I had worked with him in class a couple of times. We basically wanted a director that was going to push us and work intimately with two actors; [someone who] can be comfortable telling this story truthfully and not necessarily be focusing on what the show will look like. We needed a guy who’s gonna peer into the journey and hearts of these characters and TJ is that guy. The rest kinda fell into place.
What’s a favourite memory, or story, from performing on stage in the past?
One my favorite memories of performing on stage had to be when I was doing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein back when I did community theatre in Fergus; I was playing Victor Frankenstein. I was young and would do just about anything asked of me and I liked things to be as real as possible. The show was pretty ambitious with its big wooden carpenter built sets and period costumes. There’s a part in the play when Victor says “Bring down the chains!” Which is an integral part of the process in reviving the monster. Now all through rehearsals I had asked the director, “So, we’re gonna get chains right?” He assured me yes. “Like, real chains, right?” So we get to dress rehearsal in the space: still no chains. The director assures me that we will have chains for opening night. “Awesome!” I get there opening night. “Hey, where the chains at?” He tells me their up there and they will trickle down at the appropriate time. “Great!” I don’t even check them out or run that section to make sure it works; I was just excited to have chains. So sure enough, “Bring down the chains, Henry!” I’m super immersed in the role. I’m walking toward the table with the monster on it, now what i’m about to explain all happened in a split second: in mid-stride I hear from the air: zzzzzzzzzzip! What comes down from the sky is about 25pounds of bundled up rusty chains attached to a rope that a stage hand decided to drop at about 85 miles per hour! I put my arms out, caught it like nobody’s business and continued on.
Now if had been a split second earlier those chains would have knocked me flat out! I remember thinking afterward that how the hell did I catch those chains without even thinking or knowing where they were coming from? That’s theatre: you never know what’s gonna happen and when something different does happen it’s a gift and you go with it.
Describe BLACKBIRD in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.
Surviving, Putrid, Lovely
Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?
What I’d like to add is this:
Come see the Blackbird link for tickets:
A link to my comedy web series: Van Damme Motors. Be sure to check out all 7 TV spots: