dossier: Natalie Frijia for WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP THERE?

The last time this year I did something truly wintery I was skating with some friends over at Christie Pits. This is where I glided into Natalie, someone I haven’t seen probably since our days in University together. I directed a show of Natalie’s in my fourth year, an experience that really helped shape how I would approach directing and general theatre-making for years after. So, while we were out on the ice, me stumbling, her stumbling more gracefully, we chatted about the upcoming WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP THERE? festival her company Back Burner produces and curates. Seeing as how today I’m doing another truly wintery thing, having no place of work to go to because of bus cancellations and instead deciding to stay in my pyjamas and watch the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, I decided it would be fitting to share this now.

So, without any ado, on to dossier # 5:

natalie frijia

Who are we talking with?

Natalie Frijia, one of the coordinators of the What Are You Doing Up There?! Festival with Back Burner Productions!

What drew you to this? (to theatre, to WAYDUT, to each other, to wherever you are right now?)

One day, I presented a playwriting exercise in front of an audience. I hated speaking in front of people. The result: not great. Mortifying, actually. One member of the audience told me it was the worst piece of theatre they have ever seen. Ouch. As I was walking out, contemplating my decision to be in theatre, someone ran up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. I vaguely recognized the person, having seen him around the school halls, and I knew his name, but I was also fairly sure he didn’t know me. He said, “I really liked what you did. I run a theatre company, and we’re organizing a theatre festival. We want to reach out to more emerging female playwrights. Would you be interested in bringing a show there?” Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.

And then, he filled in the details. The festival would be in the basement of his house.

Right. A festival in the basement of a house. Sure, that’s a real thing. I had images in my head of walking into a horror story, all because I was excited that someone didn’t hate my work – or, more specifically, the idea that I could have a second chance in front of an audience.

But I asked around school. This guy – Guy Doucette, in fact – people said good things about him. People said, “If Guy says he’s having a theatre festival, then he’s having a theatre festival.”

Curiosity got the better of me. I went to check it out.

And LOVED it. The mix of emerging and more established artists, the air of collaboration and constructive criticism between artists, the sheer joy of just sharing your work in front of an excited and accepting audience. It was a great space to both develop work, connect with fellow artists, and grow in a theatrical community.

In 2009, Guy asked if I’d want to help him out with some festival organizing.

Five years later, here I am, excited to keep creating opportunities for artists to put their ideas on stage, just like the festival once did for me.

Why What Are You Doing Up There? Haven’t I heard of this festival before, but with a slightly different name?

This festival has had more than a few names. We started out at the What Are You Doing DOWN There?! Festival back in 2007, in the basement of Guy’s house. After four years there, and more than a few festival nights filled with audience members making each other’s acquaintances by sitting almost directly on a stranger’s lap, we moved into the back space of the Dominion on Queen – and became the What Are You Doing Back There?! Festival. As we want the festival to keep growing, keep reaching out to emerging artists and developing our connections with artists we’ve worked with in the past, we wanted to move UP to a new space – at Siren Rock Studios. And, as fun Back Burner history connection: Andrew Cromey, one of the owners of Siren Rock Studios, was Guy’s old housemate, and used to be a part of running Back Burner Productions when it was still down there in the basement.

Back Burner has humble and quite charming origins. Tell us your favourite story from the house.

February 20th, 2010. We had twelve acts scheduled that night, plus an MC, and at 7:45pm, the basement was full.

Not just full.

PACKED.

I was squished into the “tech booth” (which, at this point, was little more than a corner of the basement, covered by a curtain, that was already being pushed in by audience members sitting up against it) with Guy, our technical, Alyksandra Ackerman, and the MC for the evening, Kristian Reimer. We debated our options. We could close the doors to incoming audience members, ask any participating artists to sit outside… Or, we could dismantle the tech booth, stack up a few rows of chairs, put some pillows on the ground, and ask people to get cozy and make friends with their neighbours.

We opted for the latter.

Our stage went from an already tiny space – maybe a 5′ or 6′ by 4′, if that, to a square, two steps across, right up against the back wall. Our opening act for that evening was musician Corrina Keeling. She walked out on stage, stepping over audience members, took a look around, sat down on the floor, and just played.

At one count, we had about 80 people in the basement. Plus Luna, the house cat, Spanky, the dog, both of whom made frequent and unannounced appearances in the acts. We may have been squished, but there was a fantastic sense of community there that night.

What is the earliest memory you have of wanting, or needing to do this?

The idea of the What Are You Doing Down/Back/Up There?! Festival is to get those projects we’re working on, off our back burners, and onto the stage. I think a lot of times, we wait for perfect moments to show our work to an audience – when the script is just right, or when the opportunity arises, and it’s hard to develop as an artist if you don’t show your work to an audience. We want to make that opportunity.

Personally though, I was drawn to the festival because it was an opportunity to do something and connect emerging and established artists NOW.

Years before I even heard of Back Burner, I schemed with a good friend about starting up an arts festival. He was a musician and filmmaker. I was a playwright and working in scenic art. We wanted to pool our resources and create a gigantic, magical arts festival… someday. After we graduated, and made a bit of money, and got a name for ourselves in the art community, etc. There was a lot of scheming, and a lot of saying “someday”.

To make a long story short, he died, and we never followed through on any of those ideas we had on the back burner. And we had some GREAT ideas.

So the earliest memory I have of wanting or needing to do a festival like this is that: you can’t wait for great opportunities to develop your work, connect with fellow artists, and get your ideas on stage, to just pop up, fully formed and fantastic. You have to make opportunities, and the more you work on them, the better they’ll become.

Which is what we hope for the festival: that every year is going to be bigger and more fantastic than the last, and that the artists who participate will grow from their experience.

In a sentence, tell us what to expect from WAYDUT.

An eclectic, eccentric and exciting mix of emerging and established artists in a celebration of the arts, where every night will bring you something very different.

Describe the event in three adjectives or phrases.

Celebration

Community

Artistic exploration

Do you have anything you want to share with us? A story? A photo? A song? A video?

I attached a photo of the really crowded night at the festival. It’s of performer, Jeff Giles (who’s in the festival this year as well), surrounded by audience members.

Back Burner Feb 20-2010 Jeff Giles

Check out Back Burner’s Facebook page for the WAYDUT Festival. The line-up is impressive and multi-faceted each night. It’s guaranteed to be an enjoyable time. Nicole Ratjen, a good friend of mine, will be MCing the first night as her clown Princess Penelope Pamplemousse as she searches for her wayward Prince Charming on Valentine’s Day. On Saturday, the 16th, come on out and see me in a staged reading of a new play by Michael Bedford, tentatively called [play]. 

Back Burner Productions

Friend and writer-I-admire Peter Counter is hitting his writing stride with this whimsical yet honest blog about his coffee addiction, something many of us never look twice at. His post structures are consistent, allowing you an easy in, as he grapples with life around his morning, midday, afternoon, nighttime or anything in between brews.

Reading this always makes my day a bit happier.

Dry Beans & Ginger

The context:

It is Sunday, which as everyone knows is God’s pyjama day. And wow, what a day for him to choose. It’s beautiful outside, Toronto. So beautiful that I imagine you are reading this printed on loose leaf paper, sitting on a beach, drinking a mojito or Brava “the beer of summer,” bundled up in a winter coat, because it’s not actually that warm outside.

Due to a pact I made at last night’s belated Robbie Burns Day party, my girlfriend and I cancelled our Sunday beach plans and headed to 7 Grams, located on the edge of Yorkville, to visit our pal John. He gave us this:

The content:

size: indie large (regular sized mug)

price: a polar bear, a moose, a historically significant sail boat, and a beaver

coffee: drip coffee, with a clean spoon full of brown sugar and a little bit of half-and-half


Satan:

We should have gone to…

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dossier: Brandon Crone for TURTLENECK and SAFEWORD

Today’s dossier is exciting to me because it is the first to profile a Toronto playwright. I’ve met Brandon at a few events and his charisma and general excitement for anything theatre is awfully infectious. I have no doubt you’ll be able to get a glimpse of this below.

That said, here’s dossier #4:

Brandon Crone

Who are we talking with?

The self-proclaimed enfant-terrible of Toronto independent theatre. The title is a little premature but here’s hoping it’ll stick. You’re speaking with Brandon Crone, Artistic Director of safeword.

Turtleneck is your first play. What drew you to playwriting?

The whole thing sort of happened unexpectedly. I never thought I would be a writer. When I was studying theatre in school, I was surrounded by playwrights who were constantly working on new material and I generally concluded that in order to be a playwright, it was required that you possess a natural skill with language and that was something I would never be able to attain to. I was always very good at structure but hopelessly inarticulate. It wasn’t until I started reading Harold Pinter for the first time that I suddenly realized that I could potentially use this impediment to my advantage when crafting a play. The way he uses language as a cover or a code to illuminate the true desires of his characters made me realize that most people aren’t actually that particularly lyrical or articulate in their daily interactions with other people. It’s what’s going on underneath those commonplace phrases or jumbled sentences that’s most exciting to me and more true to life in any case. I attended a bi-monthly, play-reading group that was created by two friends of mine, Andrew Young and Shayne Monaghan called Monday Night New Works, where people could bring in new work to share and discuss with fellow writers. After that, I told them I would write something and bring it in to be read at the next session. During that month and the half, I wrote Turtleneck start to finish and it hasn’t changed much since then.

What is you earliest memory of wanting, or needing to do theatre?

Since birth I guess. I’ve been doing it for long as I can remember. When I was growing up, my Mom ran her own daycare in our basement so I was always surrounded by other kids at a young age. She would read us stories, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and when we went on to the park, she recalls me directing all the other children in visionary re-enactments of the stories. There are also very embarrassing photos of me wearing a dress when I single-handedly directed and choreographed a production of The Nutcracker with my Grade Two class in the playground and presented it to the school’s faculty and students unannounced. It’s never been something I’ve had to think about because that need has always been inside me and I’ve always pursued it. I’ve been very fortunate to know from an early age what I wanted to do in life.

Turtleneck only has 30 seats per showing. Was this a conscious choice, or just a side effect of the venue?

A little of both. The initial idea was to do a small, intimate production but choosing to have specifically 30 seats was influenced by the size and capacity of our venue. However, having rehearsed in the space while experiencing the show from the viewpoint of the audience makes me realize that it has definitely worked out in our favour. Everyone is in such close proximity to the action that it’s hard not to feel like you’re a part of the play. It really creates an encompassing effect that perfectly lends itself to the overall theme of the show.

What has been your favourite memory from writing and/or directing Turtleneck?

What I’ve enjoyed most is the conversations I’ve had upon sharing it with other people. Turtleneck is an experience. You either come out of it deeply moved, deeply offended or in a strange limbo of moral ambiguity so for me what’s most important about this project is being able to create a forum of meaningful discussion and reflection about important issues, feelings and experiences. I’ve been living in the Turtleneck bubble for the past few months now as we ready ourselves for the production and in a way I really don’t want it to end. I wish we could just keep meeting together in rehearsals to work on the material, talk about it and explore the infinite ways the text can be interpreted. But now the time is fast approaching for us to share the fine work everyone’s put into this show with our audiences. I think that’s what I’m most looking forward. How are people going to react to this crazy play?!

Describe Turtleneck in three adjectives or phrases.

Carnal – The play is very driven by sexual desire in all its different lights. But whether it be sensual, tender, rapturous, forceful, aggressive, pathetic, mournful or just plain repulsive, it all derives from our base, primal instincts.

Side-splitting – Did I mention it’s a comedy? There are certain moments in the show where I can always guarantee without fail that I will be curled up in a ball on the floor crying my eyes out with laughter.

Haunting – When all is said and done, the play just stays with you. It’s designed in a way that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions and try to piece together the rubble for themselves.

Do you have anything you’d like to share with us? A story? A picture? A video? A song?

Yes, here’s the link to our show trailer:

Turtleneck is happening from Feb 7th-17th at hub14 (14 Markham St., just West of Queen and Bathurst). Tickets are only $15. Since seating is limited, it’s best to book online ahead of time at http://www.secureaseat.com/turtleneck to ensure you’ll get a spot.

Shows are on Thurs, Fri, Sat evenings at 8pm and Sat and Sun matinees at 2pm.

It’s gonna be a fantastic production and I hope everyone will try their best to come out to experience the ride.

For more info on safeword, “Like” our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/safewordtheatre