dossier: The Boys of Living Room Theatre for NEW ART NIGHT

I met these fellas last year through a series of events, parties and a writer’s circle. Andrew Thomas McKechnie, Jesse Byiers and Alexi Pedneault make up Living Room Theatre. My first experience with their event New Art Night was when Andrew called me at about 6pm on May 29th, 2012 – two hours before the show – and told me one of their acts had cancelled and if I’d like to perform. I missed the call, so it landed in my voicemail. When I listened to it, my reaction was, “Uh, buh, guh, muh, hubba,” and after, maybe half an hour of making strange sounds to myself, I called him back and said, “Yeah. Sure.” He asked me if I needed any actors. I said, “Sure, a woman would be fine.” I arrived at about 7:40, was introduced to said actress who would read the excerpt of the play I was working on, and that is that. It’s like an improv exercise: just say yes, because, really, you won’t regret it. I met many people I now spend a lot of my time with that night.  

On the eve of the third Toronto-instalment of New Art Night, I came to the boys to make a dossier for them.

And this is what happened.

What follows is a rather untraditional entry. Instead of simply responding to the questions I sent via email, or of me actually being there to ask the questions, the boys took it upon themselves to interview each other using the questions I had provided. They recorded it during some sort of electrical storm, or while being attacked by an assassin with Metal Gear Solid-style chaff grenades (this is the only thing I can imagine that can explain the overpowering static in the recording). So as we read the following, just imagine these three guys sitting, probably in the dark of their kitchen, sitting around a many-candled and knife-scarred table. Imagine three men who made the journey from Red Deer to Toronto where they immediately began inspiring everyone they came in contact with. 

Are you ready? 

Here we go, dossier #8:

Alexi Andrew Jesse

[begin transmission]

(Andrew) Thomas: Who’re we talking with?

Jesse: Is it recording?

Thomas: Yep. We’re gonna send him this whole file. It’s gonna be great, “This is like an hour long. You guys are assholes”

(sounds of coffee being sipped)

Alexi: So… who’re we talking with?

Jesse: Jesse Byiers.

Alexi: Alexi Pedneault.

Thomas: Andrew Thomas McKechnie.

Alexi: Whoa… Thomas.

Thomas: Shut the fuck up!


Jesse: It’s your Soulpepper name.

Alexi: Should we say our middle names too now?

Jesse: I should just go, like, James? I should make up a stage name too?

Thomas: Yeah.

Alexi: My name’s Luis.

Thomas: That’s not bad except we already know a Luis. We don’t know any James’ though so you’re okay with James.

Alexi: Fuck you.

Thomas: Fuck you.

Jesse: Woo.

(sounds of coffee being sipped)

Thomas: What draws you to do what you do?


Jesse: What do I do?

Thomas: I don’know, what do you do?

Jesse: (reading) Oh, playwright, visual arts, acting…

Thomas: I-I-I don’t think it’s, like, I don’t think that’s like Andrew, Jesse, Alexi, it’s just like – like – what are the things – what are the things that you do, Jesse? And why do you do them?

Jesse: Oh, I see.

(sounds of coffee being sipped)

Jesse: Aaaahm…

(sounds of coffee being sipped)

Jesse: I-uhhh ok, I act which is my main focus. Um, I also, I also, do devised theatre, uhhh, I am a… man… I don’t know, what else do I do?


Thomas: Just think of what you get fired up about.

Alexi: What fires you up?

Jesse: Okay, someone – Andrew, you answer this first because you obviously have a better grip on this question.

Thomas: I write, predominantly. Um, I produce because there’s a lot of good things happening and I wanna support them and encourage them; I direct because it’s exciting to be sitting in the room seeing those little sparks in people and being like, “Yeah, yeah! Yeah! Go with that!” and being able to sit back and that’s very much why I like to create work because you get to do that in a lot of different roles and you get to be in a group of people and just follow impulses and try things. But, predominantly, I write and I write because I’ve always just communicated, um, received and shared information most effectively through written word. So I write plays and screenplays and poems and books and things like that.

Alexi: (to Jesse) Do you want to think on yours first?

Jesse: Well, k, I – k – I – predominantly, I act. I also study devised theatre and work in collaborative work efforts, so I suppose that involves a little bit of directing and puppetry and all that fun stuff but mostly I – mostly, I guess – mostly devised theatre: creating a piece – creating pieces – in a group environment and a shared work environment. I also do music. (laughs) I perform music? I write music? And –

Thomas: Fills our house with music.

Jesse: – fills our house with music and – and – and amateur poetry.

Thomas: I like your poetry.

Jesse: Thank you. Um… the reason why I do what I do is because I do a lot of things okay. But I’m not really good at one thing and maybe acting isn’t what I’ve always wanted to do but there’s nothing else I’ve spent as much money on in education and as much time and endeavoured my entire life towards so it has to mean something.

Alexi: Ah, well my first passion was visual arts so in a way the reason why I did visual arts was more because I felt like it was more like a therapy, but, like, not just therapy. It was just a way to have my own way of expressing myself without being just loud and obnoxious and then I went into theatre where I could be loud and obnoxious and be art-feely with my little small world which is visual arts. So I got the best of both worlds. Um. But it’s just about creating. I just – I just loved creating and loved collaborating. I loved talking with people, building on what their ideas are and that’s what got me into art in general. It’s just – it’s just so much love and passion. I want to keep building it, not just in one field, because I went to school for theatre-acting, but just that wasn’t enough. I wanted to do everything, I wanted to try everything else. I didn’t want to just limit myself to one title. What draws me to do what I do is a most pure love and adoration for the arts.

Thomas: Why New Art Night?

Alexi: No. You skipped one.

Jesse: Yeah

Thomas: Oh, shit!

Alexi: You skipped a question, sir.

Thomas: It was – it seemed like a boring question. JUST KIDDING! It sounds like a great question.

Alexi: Andrew, it’s a great question. Gaboury that is. Ummm.

Thomas: Have we…?

Alexi: Let’s read that one.

Thomas: What is the – (beat, laughs) What is the earliest memory you have of wanting or needing to do this?

Alexi: I don’t know.

Jesse: Ok

Alexi: Um, the first thing that comes to my mind is of – of – of – I’ll say theatre. First thing that came to my mind that I always wanted to be in this was the first time I ever saw a play, I guess. It was me being 12 and seeing this live performance of Cinderella which was actually really damn good in high school –


Alexi: Anyways, Cinderella, um, and it’s – and what made it so great is the fact that you shared this room with these people and you saw things live and you saw this story live. And what makes it even more special is that you saw them fuck up live, which was why I love theatre: mistakes. Because you just see the most interesting things come out and I guess that was the first time I [remember. Wanting to] be a part of their fuck-ups.


Thomas: You’ll get plenty of those in Living Room Theatre.

Alexi: Oh, there’s plenty of those.

Jesse: (clears throat) Hi! You are a yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy. Yeah that’s a vocal [warm-up], yeah.

Thomas: Please include that in your interview.

Jesse: Uh, kay: the reason why I got into theatre, I never wanted to do theatre or be an actor until I was 18 / in grade 11… so I guess I was 17. My dad was a cabinet maker and I worked for him for a very long time and the plan was to become a cabinet maker and live out in a shack in the woods. Um, but there was a girl that I had a crush on in my band class and, uh, and, uh, in order to impress her, I don’t know how this was supposed to impress her, I memorize and recited the orchard monologue, “But soft what light through yonder window breaks,” from Romeo and Juliet.

Thomas: Can you still do it? Can you still do it? Can you still do it?

Jesse: I can barely…

Thomas: Do it right now!

Jesse: No, I can remember some of it but I…

Thomas: Go as far as you can go.

Jesse: No!


Jesse: Cause now I’m learning new things and I suck at Shakespeare, so I can’t even talk properly. Um, I memorized the speech for her and recited it for her. She half listened to it and then she ended up dating a rig pig so I stopped talking for a week.

Alexi: What a bitch.

Jesse: But I – then I took the drama program, the one limited drama program my town had, and my friend said I was good and so I don’t really know why or how that was the particular reason that made me audition for Red Deer College’s theatre program but, uh, for some odd reason I did it and then I ended up getting in, so, uh, despite the fact of being offered a free tuition and spot at SAIT for cabinet making. I turned it down and went to acting instead.

Thomas: The rest is history. (beat) I was in like grade seven? And we had this creative writing assignment where we had to write a page and I ended writing this, uh, I was super jacked about it and the teacher forgot that the assignment was due that day but I was so excited that I walked up to the front of the class and put in on her desk and she was like, “Oh yeah! Everyone hand those in!” and my classmates were very angry with me.

Thomas: Why New Art Night?

Jesse: Well I never really got involved, I never really had my own thing in it until we moved to Toronto because Andrew said that instead of doing a full show why don’t we do this thing instead, that we were doing in Alberta?

Alexi: But it started even earlier then that with Love and Time Machines.

Jesse: But I never curated a night until Toronto.

Alexi: Do you remember the night that we all took turns kinda curating it because of one giant fuck up? I think that was the first time I –

Jesse: Where all three of us –

Thomas: You mean the time at the Nickle Studio?

Jesse: Yeah.


Thomas: That was the second – that was the second – waitwaitwaitwait –

Jesse: Ok, start with – start with Love and Time Machines.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah let’s go there. The very first time I did anything like this was in October of ’09 when I was lookin’ to raise a bit of money for a Fringe bid. I got a local theatre space donated to me by the owners who were friends of mine in exchange for some bitch labour around the place and I just got a bunch of my talented friends to put stuff in. I had a couple of musicians a couple of actors, good stuff, and I carried on doing that. We did one in the in October of the next year, which was the first time I worked on a project outside of school with Jesse and Alexi where none of us got cast in – there were 6 people we had an acting class of 18 people and 6 didn’t get cast for a show, so we said, “Fuck it, we’ll make our own show.”

Alexi: Instead of the praire show.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah fuck that show.


Thomas: But it ended up being this excellent, excellent show that we just made in two weeks for funzies. Uh, called Major Tom’s Last Night on Earth, which involved Jesse playing David Bowie and Alexi and I playing identical twins. This is funnier when you realize that Alexi is a kinda short Philipino guy and I’m a really tall Aryan dude and we’re clearly not twins, but yeah, just a fun, fuck-around kinda show. Essentially what the impetus behind it was is that I have a lot of friends who are good at things and it seems a damn shame that these things are not being consistently and avidly shown. So I started doing New Art Nights. That was the second New Art Night – uh, no, that was the first New Art Night as such. We did the second one in Jan. of 2011..? Yes?

(Jesse looks across the room at a New Art Night poster, with dates saying May 28th, 29th and 30th)

Thomas: No that was the first one in Toronto. We did the one in October that was Major Tom and then the one in January which was Better Worlds.

Jesse: Oh yeah.

Thomas: And then June was The Hangoverture and Brown Toast and –

Jesse: That’s right.

Thomas: The legendary show. Brown Toast I was actually super excited by because it was essentially like two days before the show, uh, the day before the matinee show. We did like a Friday show, a Saturday matinee and a Saturday evening, and the Friday evening I was told that one of the acts for the Saturday matinee was dropping out and I was like, “Yeah! Fuck! Yeah! Fuck!” So then two of the guys who were at New Art Night on Friday, I was like, “Hey do you wanna put something together for like… 2pm tomorrow?” and they were like, “Okay,” and they ended up writing this wonderful little show about two dudes writing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it was super good .

Alexi: And the toast.

Thomas: Yeah, while just, like, making toast constantly –

Alexi: The toast became –

Thomas: The Brown Toast story, very much for me exemplifies what I like about New Art Night. Brown Toast exists because I threw two people into a desperate situation of needing to make a play and ending up being a great play and they ended coming back in the evening and then taking it to Alberta Culture Days in the following Fall and it had a life past that and it was very exciting.

Jesse: Me and Alexi were always in the photo in the paper.

Thomas: Yeah! There was always the photo in the paper. Jesse and Alexi were always in it.

Alexi: What? Really?

Jesse: Yeah.

Thomas: There was the shot from Jordan’s play.

Jesse: The shot of you and me staring at each other doing some sort of Meisner thing.


Alexi: Oh, yeah.

Jesse: And then we did Jordan’s, “Who hates Jordan?” circle.

(laughter – lots of in-jokes apparently)

Jesse: The weird thing.

Thomas: It was a weird day.

Jesse: And then we were in the hallway for Better Worlds.

Alexi: Right, rightrightrightright. I didn’t even realize that

Thomas: And then when Jess and I moved to Toronto we wanted to keep doing it because it’s always been a really wonderous time; we get bring people together and try things and inspire creativity and… and fail boldly. So we kept doing it.

Alexi: What kinds of things can we expect to see at New Art Night?

Thomas: Why don’t you talk about your piece?

Alexi: Uh, I thought it was a question in general about –

Thomas: But as a case study in the kind of stuff, because I think that’s very much the kind of stuff we want to do.

Alexi: Oh, ok. Well I have a piece. It’s an experimental piece. Something that I always love is the dog park and I’m always very happy there and I was also really interested in the idea of not having to have a set theatre space where [the performers] could essentially go anywhere. Anywhere you want to do the show and could have a crowd of people. So for this one I had this dog mask that was specially built by Evan Harkai who does masks. It’s about a man who’s unable to realize the two realms of a soulmate and having a companion, AKA a dog. In order to cope with his dog’s death he becomes his dog by wearing this mask around the dog park. It also involves improv theatre. Where I don’t know how to experiment with improv theatre, so it’s great to be able to try something in front of audience and see how they would react. This would be a first step because I don’t want to act in the show; I want to write it and direct it but this gives me a chance to try it in the meantime.

Jesse: I feel like we never had a mandate for New Art Night. It’s always more like a workshop – it’s not like a workshop were you can get feedback and people are like, “Ah! Yes, I liked this part of but I would have liked more of this” – it’s more so like you’ve put up something you’re working on and creating and you have no idea what it looks like or sounds like and it’s this foetus and you ripped it out of the womb and put it in a jar before it was done growing and then you’re like, “I wonder if this baby’s cute?” And then putting it in front of a crowd of people and asking –

Thomas: This analogy is fucked up!

Jesse: No, then you see if the crowd is like “Awww” or if the crowd is like, “AGH!” and try and step on it.


Thomas: That’s really the heart of New Art Night.


Jesse: And then you will know if your baby is ugly or, y’know, a mutant and you need to destroy this thing and start again or if it’s – if you’re on the right path and you to like, add something, put eyes in to it and add fingers.

(more laughter)

Thomas: Are you clear with how birth works?

Alexi: This is like a Mr. Potato-baby.

Thomas: That’s not – it’s not – that’s not how that works. There’s like a gestation period.


Thomas: You don’t just, like, put eyes on babies.

Jesse: Well, anyways, it’s like – anyways. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just theatre, theatre is the only thing that really needs [something like this].  There’s lots of other stuff where you can write a song and put it up on Soundcloud and have people judge it. From that you can put it on YouTube and have people say whether it’s shit or if it’s good or not, where with Theatre you can’t do that; there’s no opportunity for people to put there stuff up –

Alexi: Unless you’re in school.

Jesse: Yeah, unless you’re in school. You have no chance to put up your piece that you’re working on and hear and audiences laughter or an audience claps or an audience’s silence.

Thomas: Theatre has to be evaluated live.

Jesse: Theatre has to be evaluated live so we have no other option then to just put it up. And of course you can get it work-shopped by professionals or something but that costs money, that costs their time. But this a chance to have an actual audience.

Thomas: What I get really excited about is, since they are these weird little weird, test-tube babies that don’t have eyes – is that the analogy we’re using to describe the art we’re creating?

Jesse: It’s like Frankenstien’s baby.

Thomas: What I like most about that is that so many of these things are sort of odd little Frankenstien creatures that could not stand on their own. So there is no other place to see a young lady reading poetry while projected video plays over her for three and a half minutes. This is sort of the only venue for that sort of stuff and just the sort of weird, interesting assortment of stuff that we have on a night by night basis. That this sort of event is the only one where we can get such an interesting and diverse mix of things. What do we have? What going on for this one? We got, suicide plays, a fairly straight realism piece about a coffee shop, a bit of   pick up artists, and a sketch comedy troop, and then me and a bunch of people are going to go into a room with a bunch of poems and just make something on Monday and we don’t know what that’s going to be but we’ll find out Monday evening when we put it up. SO! So it’s consistently a strange and wonderful evening of literary and theatre art.

Thomas: What’s your favourite memory from a past New Art Night?

Jesse: Oh! Can I take this one! Can I take this one first.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah hit it.

Jesse: Okay, so first my favourite New Art memory, there’s a few good ones, but my top-notch one has to be, yeah, it has to be New Art Night May 28th, 29th, 30th 2012? Yeah, 2012. The first one that ever happened here in Toronto, we didn’t know any body, we had – we had this one professional group come up and there was like two people in the audience so they were super unimpressed but the second night there was about 4 or 5 people in the audience and then half way through it these two drunk guys stumbled in. They had no idea what it was they just accidently stumbled into this place. The guy’s name was Vladimir and he sounded like he was from The Cure almost and he’s just, he’s started talking to Andrew (Thomas) and Andrew’s like, “Hey this guy’s a bit drunk but he wants to do something for the next New Art Night.” And I was like, “Cool!” So I told him to come in a little earlier and we’ll have an audition for him, and thought this was cool: meeting new artists. And he was going to sing some songs with his guitar, put on a little concert. So he came in and we sat and watch him and he wasn’t… awful… but he wasn’t spectacular and me and Andrew decided to take a risk on him. That’s what New Art Night’s about, failing, taking risks; so we’ll take a risk as producers and we’ll just put him up. So like… five minutes before the show starts, he says he’s changing the song, that he’s going to sing a different song than the one he sang before. And we’re like, “Okay!” and at that point were kiiinda worried about it but we’re like, “All right! Okay. You do what you need to do.” He’s like second last or something and me and Andrew are sitting next to each other and he opens the door and comes in with his guitar and as soon as he slams the door behind him you know something bad is going to happen. He then takes his shirt off swings it off stage and then starts playing this 40 minute long song with like 20 different endings and the entire audience was like – this was the one time was actually had a very good crowd for New Art Night as well and everyone just stared at this guy and a couple of our friends came up and said they thought it was a joke, they thought he was going to say, “This is how long I can lead you on this terrible song. Look how long you held on to every single note.” And every time he hit the chord you were like, “Oh good it’s over” and then he’d hit another one and you’d be like, “Okay, it’s over… okay, maybe not… okay, it’s over… okay, maybe not,” and I remember Andrew grabbing my knee and squeezing it and I could feel myself turn red. That was my favourite memory.

Thomas: And now I see him everywhere!


Jesse: Yeah, everywhere

Alexi: Andrew (Thomas) will be like, “That’s the guy!”


Jesse: Alexi?

Alexi: I guess it would go back to the first New Art Night. Not the first one in Toronto but the first one you did in Red Deer. I just loved doing that weird and funny and just collective show of Major Tom’s Last Night on Earth. Just two weeks of talking and talking and talking and then ten days before the show we put up this just really absurd show of David Bowie’s apocalypse circus and it was the silliest thing ever but still to this day I love it. I giggle about it. And his – oh God! There’s another good memory was that fucking monologue that was about nothing! There is no transitions –

Thomas: It’s a page long monologue of non-sequitors.

Alexi: Non-sequeitors, and then Andrew’s (Thomas’s) like, have fun with this and perform it! And I’m like, “Aaandreeew” but it was awesome.

Thomas: Alexi comes to me and he’s cramming in Theatre History, he’s just totally tuned out because we were in school at this time. He just totally tuned out in theatre history and he’s just cramming this monologue and he’s like, “Andrew, we need to cut part of this so I just scan through the non-sequitors and found a place that I can jump it.” And then I just cut the middle of the monologue right out and it’s just a series of non-sequitors so it just jumps to the next one and he’s like, “Good that’s much easier.”

Alexi: And then I was thinking, with that memory, is how did you write a monologue with non-sequitors. Like, where did you pull this shit up? The best! The worst and the best and it turned out to be quiet a fun show and to this day I find myself bragging about that show, like “Half of our class got to do this prairie play by this Canadian playwright, we did a play about David Bowie”

Thomas: I would say – yeah, no, I – you, uh – I want to say: every night I get something different. Every night there’s a second or a line or a moment that’s transcendent and to pick one out would seem to diminish all the others so I’ll say the Brown Toast is a favourite memory because it was created by two of our friends in a morning and an evening and a morning out of total desperation and involved making a loaf of bread’s worth of toast onstage. And Jesse walking on stage without pants on. It was just this insane show, in fact: not only was it good enough to use it was great and they brought it back and they carried on with it.

Jesse: I liked the Nickel Studio because it was a cabaret setting so you couldn’t tell how many people didn’t show up, whereas in Unit 102 it’s all seats so it’s like, “This many people showed up!”

Thomas: But then at the final show of the last New Art Night we had to find chairs to fit more people in. There were so many people.

Thomas: It’s says he wants us to describe New Art Night in three adjectives, what if we each said an adjective and – uh…

Jesse: Can I say a phrase?

Thomas: Yeah

Jesse: Okay, yeah, I can do one adjective. I don’t wanna start, but –


Thomas: Brave.

Jesse: Courageous.

Alexi: Passionate.

Thomas: Do we have anything we want to share with us? With “us?” Andrew, you’re the only person who runs this. Us! Oh, the audeince is us.


Thomas: A story, a photo, a song, a video, these can be plural.

Jesse: Yeah.


Thomas: I suppose we should get the Stop Playing – er, “Stop Praying, Start Playing” recorded we could send that.

Jesse: Why not send him everything? You write him a story, Alexi paints him a photo, I’ll send him a song.

Alexi: WhoooOwww

Jesse: And then the video.

Thomas: Spit roast?

Jesse: Yeah, spit roast.

(indistinct mumbling, i.e. conspiracies)

Alexi: Okay. Okay.

Thomas: That’s not like a thing that you need to –

Jesse: That’s off the record.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s – let’s just not include that bit about spit roasting in the video. Um, that’s not something that needs to be audio recorded, so we’ll stop recording now as we’ve already given you more then half –

[end transmission]

poster NAN

dossier: Jordan Tannahill and William Ellis of VIDEOFAG

Jordan and I met a couple years ago, at a workshop of a mutual friend’s show. Since then we’ve continued to stay connected in some way or another, usually around performances and works-in-progress. When I started this blog up, I immediately thought of VIDEOFAG for a dossier entry. We tried to meet, but life was a little too unstable for us. Things kept getting pushed back and ultimately forgotten, until I was able to come by VIDEOFAG to see a “prototype” (more polished workshop term coined by Jacob Zimmer of Small Wooden Shoe) of a new Sky Gilbert show, To Myself at 28. Jordan invited me to stick around afterward for tea and so we could get this done. Thinking about it now, how serendipitous that it took another “workshop” to get us in the same space for an extended amount of time.

If you haven’t met the boys of VIDEOFAG, or if you haven’t been there to see their ever-changing programming, do yourself a favour and check it out. It’s arguably one of the more exciting new spaces in Toronto right now.

Alright, enough gushing. Here we go, with dossier #7:

Who are we talking with?

On the right: My name is William Ellis. One half of VIDEOFAG.

On the left: I’m Jordan Tannahill. We’re boyfriends and proprietors of VIDEOFAG.

Co-owners of the space?

William: Co-renters. And co-programmers / curators.

What else do you guys do?

William: I’m an actor.

Jordan: I’m a playwright and director.

Tell us what keeps you going, in other words, why do you do what you do?

William: I think, ultimately,  I’m interested in stories, people’s stories. That’s both fictional and people who are working through things. As an actor you get to embody these stories and relate it to your own life.

Jordan: I think I’m just naturally a curious person. I love being challenged and I think art making allows me to pursue my curiosities and surprise myself and challenge my assumptions. Having this space is almost, like, you never have to have a Netflix account. We can just sit in our living room and just watch the most incredible performances in Toronto. And I think in a way it’s about nurturing ourselves as artists as much as it is about building a community. I really do believe in the value of community building and creating opportunities for my friends.

It’s a lot of work running VIDEOFAG, but it always feels new. Every project we put on, there’s new challenges and new rewards and so it doesn’t ever get, it never feels like we’re just doing 9 to 5. We’re building a space that we as artists want to see. We’re building our optimal experience.

What’s your earliest memory of wanting, or needing to do this kind of stuff?

William: Just playing when I was a kid. Just playing by myself and using my imagination. It wasn’t about being a performer or acting or anything or anyone even watching. It was just sort of going off into my own world or going off into the forest by myself. Just letting your imagination run wild, living in your own world.

Jordan: Yeah, I was the kind of kid who wandered a lot by himself all along the edges of the playground. I’d be thinking and singing to myself. When I was at my grandparents’ place, I’d be wandering through the woods by myself for long periods of time. I remember also making my own episode of Camp Caribou, I don’t know if you remember that show, and that was maybe when I was, like, 3, or maybe –

William: My god.

Jordan: I mean, I didn’t, like it wasn’t all staged and –

William: I was like peeing my pants when I was 3.

Jordan: We never had, we were never a camcorder family, so maybe that’s why I’m in performance because I was never playing with the family camcorder.

William: Did you have an audience?

Jordan: Not really. Although I feel like, (to William) you and I talked about this, but I think space making came very early, because I would always have stores and barber shops in our basement. I think a lot of kids do that.

William: Or like building forts? Our own little playhouse or something.

Jordan: I feel like VIDEOFAG is our adult fort.

William: Totally.

Just like the Storefront Theatre, Videofag is an amazing new development for this city’s art scene. The excitement for these new spaces is palpable. Tell us how Videofag came about?

Jordan: It seems like in the last four or five months specifically there seems to be this kind of renaissance of space. Speaking personally, I was actually really inspired by, specifically, what was happening in the visual art world. Visual arts has continually and regularly engaged with the DIY headspace since the get-go. I think a space like Double Double Land on Augusta, just up the street, that was hugely influential for us. The fact that people were making their homes into these spaces for community and for art presentation and art creation was really exciting, and that they were always innovatively being used, not just for rehearsal, or whatever, yoga classes, but they were actually being used as spaces where challenging work was being put on on a regular basis. I think FAG as well, Feminist Art Gallery, Allyson Mitchell and Dierdre Logue’s space that they run out of their home was a really inspiring model as well, the idea of just, having this space with a very strong mandate. They’re completely charting their own. They’re kind of making their own utopian political environment. That’s really inspiring.

William: [Art galleries] have been around for much longer as well. Judith Thompson mentioned in the 70s about these early spaces. I was reading an article last night about a bunch of underground art spaces that were on Augusta just two years ago. Most of them no longer exist. They were all sort of live-work art spaces that had a quick turn-over.

Jordan: I think that’s what sets up apart from a lot of the theatre spaces. It is borrowing often from more of a visual art model.

What kind of programming is Videofag interested in hosting?

Jordan: I always use the word transgressive. I think something that’s challenging maybe a marginalized or – whether because of form or content – wouldn’t otherwise get programmed at other institutions. We’re interested in works in progress or new ideas.

Is it always performance-based?

Jordan: We do a lot of video screenings, we do lots of lectures, talks, community dinners. We do function as kind of an art gallery. So we’re a totally omnivorous space.

We were talking about the idea of feral curation: the idea of artists will come to us, or we’ll come to artists. There’s no set model for how we engage. It’s very conversational. We just allow projects time to gestate. We find the right resources for that to happen and we also gift the space to artists. We host a lot of residencies and tailor them to a project’s needs because one size doesn’t fit all. That’s why we’re always so active and also why so much new work is being developed in the space because we’re totally flexible.

William: We’ve certainly been amazed at the different communities we’ve discovered in Toronto, and how many different people and how many different groups there are. I think a lot of traditional theatre spaces tend to tap into the same theatre audience and it’s not that big. There are all these other people doing interesting things.

Jordan: I think it’s important for us that VIDEOFAG be a place that’s accessible to artists of every age. Different generations. That it’s a space for conversations between generations, in both the queer community and the larger arts community. I think as young artists we can learn a lot from artists who have been doing this for a lot longer than we have.

What is your favourite memory so far in the development of Videofag or of the programming you’ve hosted?

(a brief pause as they look at each other; smiles on their lips.)

Jordan: I think we’re both thinking the same thing. It’s kind of legendary now. It’s become my favourite memory but it was horrifying.

William: It was horrifying. Oh my god. It was during Salvatore Antonio’s TRUTH/DARE event –

Jordan: – and Adamo Ruggiero’s –

William: – and they’d done a live reading of Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary, and there were dance breaks during the show, and, our downstairs neighbour just came up at, like, 10:30 – 10:35, and the show had just ended and people were slowly drifting out and she, she came with her husband and with their friends, and sort of tried to shut the party down by unplugging the speakers. And then she –

Jordan: (noticing my mouth hanging open) It’s just getting started.

William: And then we were trying to tell her, we’re done, the show’s over, people are slowly leaving, and she just, like, lay down on the floor and had a panic attack, or, like, some sort of, like, we didn’t know if it was a seizure, or –

A tantrum?

Jordan: Tantrum is the perfect word for it. It was not medically induced, it was absolutely a performance of, like, exasperation.

William: It was so confusing because we didn’t know what to do or how serious it was. And so I called 911, and paramedics came, and people just sort of, you know,  were just watching.

Jordan: And all of these hunky paramedics came in, and it was funny because it was like this gay porn fantasy, and they were escorting her away. And it was just this bizarre end to this 3-day amazing show. It was just this surreal encounter between the Toronto Art World and, and our neighbours. Lovely people, and we’re constantly in negotiation with [them]. So, anyways, that was definitely a memorable evening.


Now usually I would ask about what kinds of shows we can look forward to. 

But because I took a bit longer to get this post live, the shows Jordan and William plugged when I interviewed them are either just about to happen or have passed.

So, instead of me transcribing that portion, I’ll just divert you to VIDEOFAG’s website and Facebook page to keep up-to-date with the many, many events they have planned. It’s really this hugely mixed bag of goodies, kind of like those mystery grab-bags you may have bought from a corner store as a kid. I’m sure something will raise an eyebrow.


Wasn’t that a lovely talk?

– AG


dossier: Russel Harder of TRIVIA CLUB

Today I’m very excited to expand the scope of my dossiers outside of the world of theatre and into a slightly different one: the world of Trivia! The range of Really-Cool-Stuff happening in this city always impresses me. That said, Russel and I met each other about a year ago at a theatre event. Surprise! He was hosting, I did a last minute reading of something that is no longer a thing. I met a lot of people that night I surround myself with frequently. 

I find it fitting that this talk with Russel is happening now. My life changed drastically over the last year and, as you’re about to find out, so did Russel’s!

Alright, no more blabbering. I present dossier #6:

the host himself.

Who are we talking with?

Russel Harder. The self-proclaimed enfant-terrible of Toronto independent thea– oh no wait, that was one of the last dossiers on Brandon Crone. heh, My bad. I’m a Toronto-based actor and filmmaker, and a product of the Atlantic Theatre Company Acting School, the school of David Mamet’s Practical Ascetics that is housed across from the Chelsea Market in Manhattan. The specific Russel we’re talking to for this dossier, to make this as much like written proof of my multiple personalities as possible, is the host, the stand-up, the one man show, the master of ceremonies responsible for Trivia Club.

What drew you to hosting?

There’s an obvious charm of being the one in charge, the one with the microphone. I rarely thought about hosting though, other then the odd wedding of a friend where-in I was the safe pick for MC because I was a professionally trained actor and all, muhuhuh *straightens bow-tie*… More so though, it’s equal parts loving to read the questions when I played Trivial Pursuit, and the ability to approach hosting as a two-hour one-man improv. Sometimes that means saying yes, and being the straight man to an insanely clever crowd. It’s invaluable rep time in front of people. Not to mention you’re being paid to be personable, which may be something of a dream job for me. As far as influences go? The easy answer is Jeopardy and Alex Trebek, isn’t it? There’s a reason why my final round of Trivia Night bares a striking resemblance to this Merv Griffin Production. Though while Trebek has to keep straight-laced and calm, like a pro, even in the face of Sean Connery, I can be a bit more wild and have fun with the room. Then again, that’s one of the perks of working within a bar.

Why trivia?

I’m a fan of pop culture, of useless knowledge. Always have been. Even before I knew I loved being the center of attention I knew that I loved obscure things about the Titanic and dinosaurs, or strange facts like how mosquitos are more attracted to you if you’ve recently eaten bananas (and you can thank the ol’ Disney Adventures digest for that one). There’s a certain wonderful fun that’s to be found in sharing the nostalgia of your youth with others. That’s why I could never order packets from some American trivia house, why I have to build my own series of questions for every single show. I mean, inherently pop culture is short hand for a lot of people and hosting a trivia night that I also produce and promote on my own simply gives me the chance to share that experience with a large group of people. It’s intoxicating, bringing up “My Pet Monster” and having people sing along to the theme song. Then there’s the moments where you really surprise people with an answer, or it’s that piece of trivia that they KNOW they should know so when they hear the answer… heh, I’ve found I thrive off of a slightly antagonistic relationship with the crowd.

The plan for Trivia Club came from going to my friend Alex’s trivia night actually (the only one I’ve ever been to, though I plan to do that as I’ve seemed to be part/possibly influence a trivia night boom in Parkdale and Roncy), at the Sonic Cafe near Kensington. It was awesome fun, a real barebones kind of set-up for a shoebox sized bar, but after he did the night once… he decided not to do it again. I had such a fun time too, and with the fact that I am THAT guy in a group of friends who knows everything random or pop culture related, I couldn’t help but host a trivia night myself. And improve on the idea that Alex gave me. The fun of a trivia night isn’t simply asking questions, but hooking people in with the game show aspect of it. It was by complete chance that I found Cardinal Rule (5 Roncesvalles Ave, at the corner of Queen and Roncesvalles) to be the perfect venue for what I wanted to do. The fact that, after 10 months, it’s grown to being twice a month and that it’s now sponsored by Mill St Brewery, is something that I never quite expected.

What is the earliest memory you have of wanting, or needing to be a host?

I’ve always loved the interview part of hosting, so it makes sense that I’m still knee deep in questions with Trivia Club @ Cardinal Rule. I think what you’re doing with these dossiers is pretty awesome actually. As a fan of pop culture, I’d much rather make the culture popular, especially local culture. I honestly love game shows, the competition on display, but my first hosting and what will always influence me is the talk show. David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, and on and on. I found a niche, even in niche projects with friends as the documenter, the interviewer, throwing in “special features” to make it a magazine. I suppose that, when I was 11 or 12, is my earliest feeling of hosting.

Do you have a favourite memory from a past Trivia Club?

When Mill St Brewery started sponsoring Trivia Club. Ooo yeah, drink Mill St Cobble Stone Stout! (this answer brought to you by Mill Street Brewery) In all honesty this made me do some serious digging, which was quite useful with Trivia Club’s Anniversary Spectacular coming up on the 10th of April. Thanks for the reminder! I say that and I still won’t give a specific answer. I’ve mentioned being a fan of the energy that this night brings, the groans of defeat or the outright jubilant cheer of victories small and large. What has really been exciting has been the minutest victories, victories by HALF a point at the end of the night even after 50+ points have been won, that gets the Champion of the month the Golden VHS (last month was The Jungle Book).

Describe Trivia Club in three adjectives or a phrase.

Unpredictable. Inspiring. It’s not what you know, it’s what you learn along the way. That last phrase has not only become my trademark way to sign-off at the end of the night, Trivia Club’s defacto catchphrase, it’s my “Goodnight and good luck”, and an olive branch to those who don’t think they’re any good at trivia nights, but also something of a motto for my approach to this event. Now in my eleventh month with the production it’s evolved month in and month out, as I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t with a show. How to keep things exciting and new, how to work with crowds, and deal with hecklers. I know much more about production, promotion, and hell even contract negotiating then I did before. I’ve also gained a family of friends at Cardinal Rule. They truly are excellent folks, and it doesn’t hurt that the food is fantastic.

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

A blind man’s seeing eye dog pissed on the blind man’s shoe. The blind man said, “Here Rover, I’ve got a treat for you!” The blind man’s wife said, “Honey, you can’t let that pass!” But the blind man said, “I gotta find his mouth, so I can kick ‘im in the ass.”

Okay, so that wasn’t even a good story, it was a bad joke from Prairie Home Companion. For good stories, I welcomely direct everyone to my friend Arianne Shaffer’s website. She’s incredibly entertaining and also whip smart.

Aside from hosting Trivia Club, acting, and filmmaking, I also checked a box on my bucket list by getting paid to read comics. You can read the labor of those fruits, my comic book reviews, on the Silver Snail website.

In honor of valentine’s day, I suggest everyone watch this Trivia Club classic (I’m sure the people that regularly come to Cardinal Rule will be surprised that I linked neither Alanis Morissette or David Bowie):

And finally, I wouldn’t feel right without leaving your readers a little bit of trivia to answer. Now I usually don’t do multiple choice with Trivia Club, as it isn’t as conductive to the large crowd atmosphere but a bit of clicking the right answer wouldn’t be a turrible idea for this format! As an added bonus, real-live Trivia Club sounds will be used to give you that at-home experience.

In the film, The Princess Bride, what special effects technique was used to create the Rodents Of Unusual Size?




Hope everyone knocked that question out of the park, and now want to go and watch The Princess Bride again. So yes, come out to Trivia Club at Cardinal Rule. It’s the second and now also fourth (usually the last) WEDNESDAY of each month, which means for both February and March you’ll have a chance to enjoy Trivia Club on the 13th and the 27th of the month! Then in April, on the 10th, Trivia Club will be celebrating its ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! So make sure to come out for that massive celebration that will be sure to give all the awesomeness of the past twelve months of trivia some due gravitas. I look forward to seeing you at Cardinal Rule, for the prizes, the knowledge, the great food, and drinks, and friends.

Remember it’s not what you know, it’s what you learn along the way.

click for their facebook page!

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