dossier: Jess Taylor for The EW Reading Series

Today’s entry in the dossier series sees it branching away from the overwhelming majority of posts focused on theatre creators (you’d think I’m in theatre or something) and brings it into the territory of those artists most people don’t think would get up on stage to perform their art. The EW Reading Series was introduced to me by my then-roommate, and poet, Matthew Walsh as a poetry jam. I showed up, unsure of what to expect. It was my first time attending a poetry jam. I thought everyone would be drinking wine and I’d be expected to snap after each poem. 

This wasn’t the case. And I was surprised to learn it wasn’t just a poetry jam, but a laid-back, party-esque event that celebrated writers of all forms.

What’s funny is that, although it was Matthew who introduced me to this event and to Jess, a few months later Jess independently moved into the same house we lived in (and I still live in). Just a couple floors up.

So, even though one roommate moved away, he, this event and Jess remain relatively, and literally, close to me. 

Enough said.

I’d like you to meet my upstairs neighbour.

dossier #23:

Jess Taylor

Who are we talking to?

I’m Jess Taylor! Hello. I’m a Toronto-based writer and events promoter. I also do art, play music, and teach the youth.

What gets you going in the morning?

I like being busy and keep my life jam-packed. So usually before I open my eyes, I already am thinking about everything I’m going to do that day. I wake up full of anticipation. I make coffee, I hug my cat, and then I get to work. It makes me incredibly happy most of the time.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, I need to write?

I’ve always been a storyteller, but I first started writing things down in grades two and three. I began with poetry, then started writing stories in grade four. Before that, I told stories through pictures and art. I did the usual nerdy writer-kid stuff – like start a poetry club in grade six, start writing weird novels about mice and parallel universes, and made zines in high school. I spent a lot of high school as part of gigging band, The Big Man Himself, but I still saw writing lyrics and the management of the band as contributing to a writing career somehow. I went to high school at Mayfield School of the Arts with a focus in Visual Arts, but I also brought text (either poetry or prose I had written) into my visual work. It all fit together for me.

Why The EW Reading Series?

When I moved to Toronto, I was really shocked by the literary scene here. It was part of the reason I moved. I’d started at U of T for their English in the Field of Creative Writing MA and was automatically included in a community of current students and alumni. I’d been missing that in Burlington, where I’d been living before, and at York University in their undergraduate creative writing program. I wanted to get involved any way I could. My first idea was to use my management and publication background (making zines and working for Existere Magazine at York) to start a micropress for work by emerging writers.

I’ve always believed in running my writing career like how I ran the band: working extremely hard, putting out a lot of content (but content I’m proud of), putting on shows, and – if something isn’t getting done – just doing it myself. So I thought I’d make chapbooks and then sell them at shows to make back the production costs (not really thinking about doing a special “launch” but just running a show every so often). I never got funding for my second year of the MA and was really poor, so getting a press started would be difficult and I gave up on the idea (for the meantime at least).

But I still wanted to do shows. No one knew who I was in Toronto. More accurately, I was a young young emerging emerging writer… I was no one. Nobody was going to ask me to read at their series or even really cared what I was working on. At the time, it seemed that series with curated programming tended to be reserved for more established writers, and younger writers were expected to scope out open mics, stay home and work on their craft instead of seeing performance as part of their craft.

So I decided to start a series. I went and talked to a couple venues. Duffy’s Tavern was really close to my house and was free. I had read there as part of a variety show, and the sound system was decent. I gave myself two months to plan the first show, booking it in January with the first show running March 2012. After that it took off. I now book up months in advance and have a submissions process.

Since I started the series, other series have popped up that feature emerging writers. Some of these series started before my series, but I wasn’t aware of them before I was running mine. I think having so many series in the city really enriches the community. There’s enough crowd to go around, and they are events people want to attend.

I named my series The Emerging Writers Reading Series to make it clear what the series was all about. I call it by its short form “EW” because I think it’s funny. It gets across the sense of play that I look for when curating. I want writers who have a good time writing and will have a good time performing.

What can someone expect when going to EW? What kind of atmosphere do you wish to create?

I found a lot of reading series around the city to be really serious, very quiet. I liked it when I was in the mood for that atmosphere, but I knew for a reading series geared towards emerging writers the atmosphere needed to be different. I drew a lot of inspiration from Pivot, where people could sit with people they didn’t know and make new friends and connections. I wanted to have that sense of inclusiveness, but have even more hype, even more of a raucous environment.

At the beginning, I did this a few ways. I would say hello to everyone who came, introducing myself to people who I hadn’t met before. I would try to introduce people to each other on break and before and after the show. I made a long break between the first half and the second half of the show to encourage people to start conversations. I hosted with a high energy style that tried to show that I cared about each of my readers, that I cared about them as people and as writers, and that I had a great respect for their work, even though they were at the early stages of their careers. The readers and I used to take a shot of tequila either after the show or on break as a bonding experience.

My hosting style has more or less stayed the same, and I think the atmosphere is the same too. The one thing that has changed is that the audience has developed a life of its own. People introduce me to newcomers now. There are too many people for me to introduce myself to everybody, and while there is a steady group of regulars, I get new faces at every show. And a lot of those faces come back. The venue fills up almost completely, so that people have to stand. That already lends a certain excitement to the show, something that no curating or hosting can control. I don’t do readers’ shots anymore because not everyone drinks alcohol and now I often work the next day. I pay my readers and give them two drink tickets. I also become the “drink ticket fairy” and drop drink tickets on unsuspecting members of the audience, convincing them to stay out later at the show’s after party.

The level of quality has stayed consistent as well. The city has a lot of talented and ambitious young writers in it, and I’m always amazed at how good the sets are. I curate each show, but I now have an assistant fiction curator, Sofia Mostaghimi.

What is your favourite memory from a past EW show?

My first show was probably my favourite because it showed me I wasn’t a complete hack; I could really run a series and I could fill a venue and everything would be ok.

Most recently, we ran BIG on Bloor Emerging Writers Past Readers Showcase, and I was thrilled. No one went over their allotted time, people gave great readings, and it was neat seeing EW at a different time (the daytime!!!) and in a different location. It allowed me to dream about it, wondering how big EW might become and what direction I’ll decide to take it.

Describe The EW Reading Series in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

Our slogan: Read! Listen! Have fun!

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

Our website:

My website:

I blog for The Town Crier about other people’s reading series:

Come check out our first show of the fall season: September 10th, 2013 at Duffy’s Tavern. 8pm, PWYC. Facebook event:

I have a wish for all of my past readers: never stop writing or reading your work. I book you because I think you’re fantastic, and I can’t wait to see where we all end up as our careers progress.

EW september

dossier: Andrew Young and Shayne Monaghan for MONDAY NIGHT OF NEW WORKS

Welcome back! After a short break, the dossier series is back up and running, starting with an exciting event indeed.

What Andrew and Shayne do with their Monday Night of New Works is an absolutely indispensable commodity. Usually falling on an “every-six-weeks” kind of schedule, Monday Night of New Works (which oddly finds itself on a Tuesday this month) does the impossible by creating an open, round-table-minus-the-table atmosphere more than welcoming to those stumbling in off the streets. It is a place to bring a script and know that everyone sitting in the circle is completely open for whatever is thrown at them; it is a place to go knowing that everyone present is an actor, a playwright, a producer, a general enthusiast of theatre ready to read, hear and talk about your piece, if you want them to. There is no screening process. An email, saying you’d like to have something read is enough to guarantee space (unless they have received too many – and even then they’ll tell you to bring something anyway, because, really, who knows what’ll happen?).

Andrew and Shayne do a lovely job of making the space comfortable. As soon as you walk in you’ll be introduced to everyone there and yet to come. They usually have coffee, water and some sort of candy. The city is all the more richer for having an event so open and warm as this one. I’ve been lucky to have one of my troublesome scripts read at the last instalment, and am grateful for what I received.

That said, let’s meet the boys.

Here’s dossier #9:

Andrew Young Shayne Monaghan

Who are we talking with?

Andrew Young [above], Co-founder of Monday Night of New Works, Actor, Puppeteer, Artistic Director of My Brother the Changeling.

Shayne Monaghan [below], Co-founder of Monday Night of New Works, Actor, Playwright, Educator, Artistic Director of ChickenWing Theatre. 

What draws you to theatre?

Andrew: The direct connection with the audience, the instant reaction you are able to hear. The fact that anything can go wrong at any moment and you have to be able to adapt, rediscovering the character show after show. Everything is in flux, hopefully within the set blocking.

Shayne: A show? Well mostly I hear good reviews and do my past to see what I can. Theatre as a career? I love the adrenaline you feel when on stage. My high school made me fall in love with theatre. I was luckily enough to be part of a touring ensemble of His, Tom Slater’s, original production of “…A Permanent Solution.” and before every show he would say today you’re going to change some ones life. That gave me goosebumps.

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

A: To perform? For me, I think I was 14 or 15, I think on a school trip to see a play. I grew up in a rural area so once a year my high school packed up a bus full of kids and made our way to the city for the day and see two shows. On the trip I saw a one-woman play called “the shape of a Girl” by Joan MacLeod. It a fairly dark story but the way it was simply one girl talking about these experiences I was enthralled by the storytelling of the show. Since then I said that’s what I want to do, tell stories.

S: It was December of 2010, and Andrew and I were sitting in our living room and, after reading our own shows for the Nth time we said to each other, “Lets invite people from school and class to come over and we can get them to do a play reading for us, and we can invite others to bring work too! We can make a night of it.”

Why Monday Night of New Works?

A: After being out of Humber for a few months, Shayne and I had gotten a few people together to read our scripts. We were sitting at the pub talking about said scripts that we were developing , or trying to write an ending to rather. Shayne and I had both read numerous drafts, new scenes over and over and found it really refreshing to hear new voices in our plays. In school we were lucky to have a playwriting class where we would bring in something and it would be read in front of the class. It was great hearing different voices week to week each with different interpretations of the characters. We said wouldn’t it be great if we could get a network of people to do the same thing on a regular basis and just keep developing these new works. Giving ourselves imposed deadlines in the process.

S: We wanted to hold it on a Monday because most theatres are dark on Mondays so we were trying to optimize our intake. Plus what else is there to do on a Monday?

What can we expect from Monday Night of New Works? (is there a mandate for what you host, what’s the layout of the event?)

A: It’s an open forum to talk about play- or screen-writing. A place to experiment with an idea and hear something off the page. A place so that you can stop forcing your roommates or friends to read your play over and over again.

S: What Andrew said, plus somewhere for fresh eyes, ears and opinions. Our slogan is: Nothing too Rough, Nothing too Short.

What is your favourite memory from a past Monday Night of New Works?

A: It’s anytime I hear a script that is brought back for a second or third time and I get to hear how it has changed and/or grown since. Or seeing something that I heard pieces of or maybe even first draft that has developed and since been mounted as a full production. Seeing it up on stage is such a great experience.

S: My favorite memory has to be our first time in the fringe creation lab when a gentleman came with a script he was developing for a community project, and we found out he came from Barrie. I was flabbergasted that we drew some one from there. Also, a friend of Andrew’s comes from Windsor. Just the dedication that people have and the repeat attendees astonishes me.

Describe Monday Night of New Works in three adjectives or a phrase.

1) Nothing too Rough, Nothing too Short

2) Social

3) Community

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

A: Our Next Monday Night of New Works is held at the Fringe Creation Lab on March 26th (on the Tuesday[!!!]) at 7:00pm. Come Check it out if you would like to see what we are about.

During New Works we make a point of holding a brief talking point called “Shameless Self Promotion.” This is were anyone who is working on anything has the opportunity to plug anything they are working on, developing or have an idea they want to work on without trying to sound too pushy about it. In that vein we are going to continue with this Idea.

I am currently working on a show with Theatre Lab that is going up in a double bill in the Factory theatre studio space. The show is called, “To the Last Cry”. It opens March 20th and plays till the 24th with shows at 8:00pm with a 2:00pm show on the 24th as well. It’s a double bill show, so there’s Theatre Lab’s show and another put on by Pandemic theatre called “Tjorvi ” the same night. More details at

S: What I would like to share is that we try to support all the shows that come through, and the more that come, and the more people support us, the more I feel we can do. Monday Night of New Works has helped in the Launch of several successful shows. Brandon Crone’s “Turtleneck,” (2013), Alex Daults “The Campbell House Story” (2012), Victoria Velenosi “Princess of Porn” (Fringe 2012), Micheal Atlin “Zugzwang” (SummerWorks 2011), as well is this upcoming Fringe’s “The 8th Day” by Shayne Monaghan, ChickenWing Theatre.

Also Check out New Works at

Or find us on Facebook at

Or on twitter @MondayNewWorks

mnnw poster

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.


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.



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