dossier: Laura Anne Harris for THE HOMEMAKER

I think last night was the first time it really hit me that the Toronto Fringe Festival is only a week away. With this newfound knowledge I feel infinitely behind in my awareness of what’s all happening this year. But then again, when have I ever felt like I have a strong grasp on the festival? What with 148 shows happening at 35 different venues across the city, how can one possibly think they have a grasp on this 11-day adventure?

Usually the easiest way is to gravitate towards those people you know, or you’ve heard about or may have possibly seen before. Laura Anne Harris and I met at a storytelling night Alex Eddington coordinated. Since then, we seem to continuously fall into the same circles: we are both playwrights currently in the same playwright circle with Steady State; we have both studied clowning with Helen Donnelly and have performed at the Foolish Cabaret together; and we are both developing (she’s much further into the process, as you’ll learn) solo shows. Laura is always a generous ear to have around as she’s always honest in her appreciations and criticisms. 

Continuing with the Fringe previews, let’s get in to today’s dossier, #16 with Laura Anne Harris:

Laura Anne Harris

Who are we talking with?

Ms. Laura Anne Harris

What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to solo shows, to Fringing, to wherever the hell you are in life)

When I decided to perform my solo show Pitch Blond, it was out of necessity. I wanted to showcase myself as an actor with the fascinating subject of Judy Holliday to as many people as possible. It’s much easier to tour on my own. Then as I kept touring the trips became easier and I had a wonderful time meeting other artists on the Fringe/curated touring circuits. Other professional opportunities arose from meeting fellow artists and I started directing several solo shows. Five years later after my first fringe festival, I’m still exploring solo work and expressing myself as a solo performer/writer.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

When I was five after seeing the Little Mermaid, I hoped to become a mermaid. When I discovered the physical conflict of the phenomenon I decided to be an actor. I could always pretend to be a mermaid, right?

Why THE HOMEMAKER?

The urban legend of my Great Aunt has been told in my family for years. Her story really inspired me to write a play loosely inspired by her life. I realized after writing a first draft of the play that it had a stark resemblance to the film Days of Wine and Roses. On a sidebar that movie is a hidden gem – see it. So in 2005, I had written a 4-person play of The Homemaker, but it didn’t quite work. Then I kept the story on my computer for about five years and not finding the right inspiration to perform it again. Until…I decided to develop a solo red nose clown turn based on the play I originally wrote. For about two years I had been training in red nose clown and bouffon with Helen Donnelly, Francine Cote, and Adam Lazarus and I feel clown carefully balances darker and lighter themes really effectively on stage. In April 2012, I paired up with director Morgan Norwich and together we worked on developing the script further. I performed a workshop presentation of the play in October 2012, then showed an excerpt at the Toronto Festival of Clowns this year as well as premiering the full-length performance at the TaDa Festival in Wakefield, Quebec on June 16th, 2013. I really enjoy performing the play and I’m sure the more I perform it in front of the audience the more and more it will grow.

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or can someone expect from THE HOMEMAKER?

I hope to set up a homey but carbaret style setting. ;). Expect surprises and baked goods.

You’ve done the Canadian Fringe circuit a couple times in the past. What do you look forward to the most when touring a new show to a new city?

I look forward to meeting the other fringe artists in the beer tent and having a really good time seeing each other’s shows. I find it can be very inspirational to see new work and see fellow artist performing.

What is your favourite memory from a past Fringe circuit show?

Oh I have so many. My first fringe in Victoria when a group of Jewish men assured me that they would bring their entire family to my show, ‘how many people does your venue hold,’ ‘um, 100,’ ‘oh don’t worry honey, we’ll bring everyone we know.’ Being taken out to lunch (coincidently on my Birthday,) by two fringe patrons who adored my show at the 2011 Toronto Fringe. Now I’m really good friends with those two fringe patrons so it was a real blessing to meet them that way. And I also need to share this one… I’m sure this will embarrass my boyfriend, but I don’t care. I was in Edmonton Fringe in 2009 and my boyfriend came to help me set up and strike the stage. One day he gave me a hickey, so I made him buy me a scarf so I wouldn’t embarrass myself handbilling the line ups. I ended up talking to Chris Gibbs momentarily, trying my best to hide my neck when he said, ‘Oh do you have yourself a love bite?’ Seeing the great Mr. Gibbs laugh at me was pretty awesome and it still remains to be one of my favourite memories.

Describe THE HOMEMAKER in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

‘So nice, so nice.’ ‘I have a bit of a bum, bum.’ ‘Peace be with you.’ ‘C’est dommage.’ Oh that’s four!

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

Please visit my website… www.lauraanneharris.com and visit my photobucket page for more photos http://s724.photobucket.com/user/laurah1234/library/?sort=3&page=1.

the homemaker poster

dossier: Aaron David Rothermund for CHARMING MONSTERS

Thus begins, or, if not begins, at least furthers, with Alex Eddington’s dossier for YARN, the hype that is leading up to the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival, or, as many of us term it, arguably the most exciting time of year for independent theatre in Toronto. I’ve fallen in love with the Toronto Fringe over the past couple years; there is nothing else that happens in this city that rivals the excitement, the passion, and the palpable energy that comes with the Toronto Fringe, especially since it’s established it’s new home at Honest Ed’s in the Mirvish Village. You actually get the sense that most of the people you see are talking about theatre. How rare!

For my first couple years Fringing, I was solely an audience member just trying to take in as many of the shows as I could. Last year, I moved on to the production side of things, producing and directing Peter Counter’s original play VIC HARBOUR with our currently-slumbering company The Four Winds Collective. Even though I was directing last year, I still made the effort to be an active audience member and ended up seeing more shows than ever before (I think my tally was 15 ~ not including the 6 or so performances of VIC HARBOUR I had to see to ensure we didn’t burn down Theatre Passe Muraille). This year, I am proud to be acting in the festival… which I’ll talk more about in an upcoming dossier. Just like last year, even though I am acting in the festival I’m still going to make the effort to see as many shows as possible. 

And Aaron’s play, CHARMING MONSTERS, is definitely on my list of shows to see. Aaron and I have only met a few times before: the first time we didn’t actually meet, but I saw him perform in Theatre Lab‘s physical TO THE LAST CRY; the second time (being the first time actually meeting) we acted alongside one another in a play reading for a friend; and the third time we were actually in the same writer’s circle with Steady State Theatre, where I heard an excerpt from CHARMING MONSTERS. Hopefully the next time we meet we’ll be having a drink at the Fringe Club and talking about the play.

So, let’s learn more about it, shall we? dossier #15:

Aaron David Rothermund

Who are we talking with?

Aaron Rothermund, Artistic Director of Afterglow Theatre.

What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to writing, to wherever the hell you are in life)

Originally I was training to be a contract killer, but decided to pursue art instead. My train of thought was I could do it all. I like to play many characters, and when I direct a show I get to play them all. In writing a play my favourite part is creating a world for the characters to exist in, and then if they piss me off I kill them. :)

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

I remember performing in shows with my sister when we were quite young, and we made up stories to fall asleep at night. This always stuck with me.

Why CHARMING MONSTERS?

The title comes from a song I wrote for an earwig in my first play. The name is appropriate because I believe we all have demons in our closets, and in this play the women are very generous until they are taken advantage of…

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or can someone expect from CHARMING MONSTERS?

I wrote it over my first majestic winter living on Toronto island, and so the play is dark whimsical. This is a brave new world with some familiar twists.

Have you had an original play in a Fringe Festival before? If so, what was your favourite memory from then?

I premiered my first play, AMBIGUOUS in the 2011 Fringe festival. I won the Trey Anthony award for excellence, which was pretty amazing. Also I remember a conversation with an actress which we discussed her wearing pasties and a see-through vest.

What are you most looking forward to with being part of the 2013 Toronto Fringe?

I enjoy mingling with other artists, and watching my peers working. There is something magic in this festival.

Describe CHARMING MONSTERS in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

The end is the beginning…

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

website: http://www.afterglowtheatre.com

Charming_Monsters_Group_Promo

dossier: Alex Eddington for YARN and the WIND DOWN FESTIVAL

Alex Eddington and I have known each other for a good number of years now, a number so good I can’t even recall it without looking into my CV (and, looking into my CV tells me the number is 4). Alex and I met during a staged reading in what was apparently the year 2009. The staged reading was for a small festival and was a rather unfortunate experience ~ a bit too long, a bit too uninspired, a bit too much palpable not caring in the air. I think Alex and I gravitated towards each other because we needed something to help get us through this thing. Also, we could talk about writing. And we still do.

This dossier is big, as it’s about two things at once: Alex’s new Fringe show YARN and his mini-cabaret-like-festival WIND DOWN. And I’m happy to bring Alex to this site!

dossier #14:

Alex Eddington - YarnWho are we talking with?

Alex Eddington: According to my bio I’m a composer, musician, writer and actor… but I might change that last one to “storyteller”. I’m also a music teacher, arts administrator, and bird enthusiast.

But you didn’t ask “WHAT DOES HE DO with whom we are talking?” As for WHO: maybe ask me again in a few years. That’s a messy thing. Rather than try to solve it I’ve convinced myself that that’s a messy question for everyone. And that messy is good.

What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to music, to Fringing, to wherever the hell you are in life)

I’m not sure which path I’m on, but I have a nervous inkling that I’m straddling three paths at once: music, theatre, and teaching. I’m hanging onto the hope that these paths will converge, or at least run parallel.

I used to be on only one path… with some side-trails. I was a semi-professional trombonist, then focussed on composing music and now I’m still a professional composer – including now a lot of music for young performers.

I actually got into theatre writing/performance because of Fringe. I entered the 2005 Edmonton Fringe on a dare with a bizarre “musicological comedy” in which I played a demented accordion-wielding prof in a third-rate university music program. The rest, somehow, is history.

Teaching is even more recent. I had an opportunity to teach middle school band in an independent school for a year, decided that I loved it, took my B.Ed., and am now doing as much arts education work as I can.

I’m always trying to pull all these threads together. Some helpful genres: opera, composition and drama workshops, shows like Yarn with a bunch of live music in them…

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

Probably watching my parents and their friends rehearsing and performing in the Kew Beach Couple’s Club Show every February. That was an amateur variety show that ran for 60 years: chorus, dancers, skits – all the songs from the great musicals – all the puns and character tropes of Vaudeville. And sometimes some absolutely inspired themes and scripts holding it all together. It was amazing how much time and love everyone put into these shows. I would hang around backstage (my Dad was sometimes the Stage Manager) and it was so thrilling.

What I learned: songs and jokes are for everyone to love and pass on; anyone can put on a show; something magic happens on a stage when there is an audience watching.

So I dabbled in theatrics at church and high school. But somehow I didn’t make my own theatre until I was 25.

Why YARN?

It’s a true story that I’ve been trying to write for ten years, since the story actually happened. In 2003 I was traveling in Europe and the UK, and needed a job, and got a “chambermaid” position in a little hotel on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. I lived there for 5.5 months – April to October. I lived two miles from a 90-person village, and all I had to get around on was my bicycle. It was beautiful place, but the loneliness got to me. I became quite superstitious, convinced (partly) that Good Luck and Bad Luck were fighting over me. I like to say that I went to the island to find myself, but lost my mind instead. Temporarily.

I’ve been sharing the stories of that summer since 2006, when I toured my first original Fringe show: Wool. That show made me some performer fans, but I never felt that it got to the root of what happened to me on the Isle of Mull. I’ve been doing workshops and drafts of these stories ever since. Seven years after Wool, Yarn comes out of having had more time to digest the events and craft a script with an arc about how the human mind (well, mine at least) tells itself stories to survive loneliness and the unknown. It’s also a funnier show now. But Yarn is so much more refined than Wool. In another seven years I will write another version of the show, called Sweater.

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or can someone expect from YARN?

I want people to feel at times like the show is really casual – off-the-cuff storytelling, with the stories being remembered just for them. Of course that’s a bit of an illusion – the asides are written in, and I tend to memorize scripts accurately, but I have tried to be much looser about this one. Yarn is written in a thinking-aloud style, and I also use music casually, flowing through everything. I deliberately chose instruments that I’m not an expert on (ukulele, baritone horn, dumbek…). I’m on stage when people come in (in Toronto the audience can come in an hour before the show if they’d like!), practicing my instruments and being in whatever mood I’m actually in. I’m not an expert who performs his thing and ignores you, I’m a guy with an unusual story and we’re in the room together; you have to trust and like me for this story to resonate with you. In Toronto I chose a room that we can’t forget we’re in: the Majlis Art Garden is sheltered (you won’t get rained on) but semi-outdoors, so there will be evening breezes, bedding birds, and the change of sunlight over the course of the show.

I also feel like this show is never done. I’m going to keep working on it over the next years. And when each performance ends, I like to hang out and talk to people. So after performances of Yarn I’m inviting the audience to stay to chat – and then to stay for guest acts each night at 9:00pm: a sub-festival I’m calling the WindDown Festival of intimate performance.

You’ve done the Canadian Fringe circuit a couple times in the past. What do you look forward to the most when touring a new show to a new city?

1) Seeing old friends who I only see randomly when we happen to be performing in the same Fringe festival. Sometimes I don’t see people for years because we live in different cities and the touring schedules don’t line up. That’s the nature of the lottery-drawn Fringes. 2) Meeting new friends: performers, audience, Fringe volunteers and staffers. 3) Seeing about 100 shows a summer.

What is your favourite memory from a past Fringe circuit show?

My 2010 tour of Tired Clichés (a new production of a TJ Dawe script) was gruelling: I was in Bring-Your-Own-Venues in Winnipeg and Edmonton so I was performing almost every day of the festival. The most memorable day of that tour happened in Winnipeg. I had a day off and was seeing a bunch of shows. Here is the sequence of events:

1) Saw Commencement, a solo show about a high school shooting massacre. Wept aloud (this doesn’t usually happen to me).

2) Had a beer at the King’s Head. Actually, a beer and a half because my director Laura Anne Harris couldn’t finish hers in the 15 minutes that we had to drink it.

3) Ran back to the SAME venue, sat in virtually the SAME seat.

4) Saw The Screw You Review – a raucous, button-pushing and very funny improvised comedy show starring an extremely cranky old man. Laughed until I literally fell out of my seat.

5) At one point in The Screw You Review, they MADE AN IN-JOKE about Commencement, the show I’d wept at earlier.

I’ve never felt so emotionally open. It was better than a sweat lodge.

Describe YARN in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

The sound of one sheep clapping.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

VIDEO: Currently there is one stop-motion teaser trailer for Yarn. The plan is to make more and post them to my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ePVhNJ0LrXk

LINK: Here is Yarn info central: http://www.alexeddington.com/alexeddingtoncom/yarn.html

POSTER: (I’m super-proud of my DIY marketing stylez)

Yarn LondonFringe postcard WISHES: That people will come to the show and it starts a conversation. With me or with whomever.

What is the WIND DOWN FESTIVAL?

I have rented a really cool site-specific venue for my Toronto Fringe run of Yarn. Majlis Art Garden is precisely 1/2 rose garden and 1/2 theatre. It’s sheltered (you won’t get rained on) but evening breezes and birds will come through the garden. It’s an intimate performance space where the audience is outdoors (sort of) but is an acoustically contained space. So I decided to host guest acts every night in this lovely space, where I could try out something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I’ve been dreaming of an outdoor performance festival without amplicifaction (or with as little as possible). Small audience, contained space. I enjoy amplified music/sound, and it has its place of course, but I feel like amplification increases the distance between performers and their audience. I want to bring them closer together. The venue and festival are proudly low-tech and that is part of the ambiance of the events.

It’s a multidisciplinary festival. 10 nights, different acts every night: music, words, comedy, dance, puppetry, clown… and TWO nights devoted to Fringe performers who will share acts and get interviewed quirkily by me – plus special guest performers.

Performers are paid from the door proceeds – the audience pays $10 (cash only) for each event – so everyone is being so generous to perform without a financial guarantee.

WindDown is a collaboration with Tricia Postle who owns the Majlis space.

Another festival DURING Fringe? Are you insane?

Yes, I am.

The WindDown Festival is a sub-festival: not part of Toronto Fringe, but running concurrently. Fringe staff told me that this is a totally new thing – they were interested in it, but I have to be careful to separate the two festivals. I’m publicizing WindDown at the same time as Yarn, and hoping that people come for both, once they’ve made the (teeny-weeny) journey to the Majlis Art Garden. And then I hope that people will come back for multiple WindDown shows!

It can be hard to get word out about a new festival, so we made the decision to run it as a kind of add-on to my Fringe run.

I really have no idea how this will go. But what a fun risk. And while I’m mostly behind the scenes, I’ll get to do some things I don’t normally get to do: interviewing performers in Open Stage nights, performing in clown. My biggest joy though is to bring all these performers and audience into this incredible little urban art garden which I feel is one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets.

We might run WindDown again as a separate thing, next summer…??

What can we expect from the WIND DOWN FESTIVAL?

The headline act is Amy Thiessen, a singer-songwriter with an absolutely lovely voice (and great guitar chops) who is coming all the way from Calgary to perform for us on two different nights. On July 11 she’s doing a solo show; on July 12 she’ll be hosting a songwriter’s circle with a couple of Toronto-based performers.

Other highlights:

– “Nightfall for Fools” (July 8) is a clown/mask/mime show with 12 performers, led by Helen Donnelly as Mildred the Maid.

– Therevox: a concert of eclectic music for soprano and THEREMIN (July 9).

– The Comedy/Storytelling night (July 13) hosted by Paul Hutcheson has an amazing lineup including stand-up comedian Nile Séguin.

And then there is a night of dance (and performance poetry), a puppetry night, the Array Session Players (improvised music) and those two Fringe open stage nights – including a really fabulous comedy juggler named Aji on July 10.

Do you have anything you’d like to share with us? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

Here is WindDown info central: http://www.alexeddington.com/alexeddingtoncom/the-winddown-festival.html

There are also Facebook events for each WindDown show.

WISHES: That people will take a risk and see a show or two.

Here is a picture of WindDown headline act Amy Thiessen!

Amy Thiessen