Another Theatre-Filled Year – Looking Back at my 2015

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Skimming the blog that I wrote about this time last year I can’t believe so much time has gone by. I think we always start off a new year feeling positive and optimistic, and things rarely turn out the way we expect, for better or for worse.

I’ve certainly had my share of crappy moments this year, but when I sit down to write something like this, a summary in a few hundred words of several hundred days, I find that the things that stick out are still mostly positive. Why? Simply because while I can trace a positive experience back to every negative one, I never do the opposite; who cares what bad seems to follow from a good thing? Chances are, they aren’t really connected, and would you trade that good moment if it meant maybe not enduring the bad? When it comes to the negative, sure, it sucks. And honestly, if I were to just count them, this year has been mostly negative. However, with each and every bad moment I can follow it through and see how it played a crucial moment in the best times I’ve had this year. Flawed, contradictory logic? For sure. But whatever. If it gets you to the start of another year looking forward to the good things rather than dwelling on the bad, well, then, I don’t think anyone should complain.

So on that note, here’s a happy summary of all my fun-filled theatre experiences of 2015 – a reminder to you, and me, of all the good parts of the year and the bright things ahead.

A Dark New Musical

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I started off the year working on a new musical with one of my best friends. Those who know me likely know that it didn’t go as planned. At all. Still, in keeping with the positive theme of this post, here is what good did come from it;

  1. I met some amazingly talented people and was lucky enough to make some really great new friends. Theatre is all about connections and I made some good business ones there as well.
  2. I helped to create and produce an original, full-length musical, something that, not only had I never done before, but, regardless of how it turned out in the end, is a pretty big accomplishment in itself. I can’t tell you the number of hours put into that show, how exhausting it was on so many levels, but despite that I came out of it not jaded, not angry, still loving theatre and still loving the people I worked with. Anyone who has heard all the inside stories knows that that fact alone is nothing short of a miracle! It also tells me that, yes, I am in the right business.
  3. I got to visit NYC again for a little over a week. One of my favourite cities, I love going there and am trying to make it a goal to visit at least once every year.
  4. For better and for worse, I got to see the true colours of a lot of people, and I think that’s a very valuable thing to discover. For the most part, I was proud and very happy with what I saw, and for the rest, well, lesson learned.

I Wanna Be A…Producer?

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Conor, Kenton, Matt & myself

As I think I’ve said before, I started off producing purely out of necessity; there aren’t a lot of people out there who get excited by budgets and spreadsheets and who would prefer to stay behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly while most of the groups asks each other, “what do producers do, anyway?”. I had produced all of Bygone’s shows but not given much thought to doing it outside of that, until a friend of mine (who almost NEVER gives compliments) told me he thought I was good at it, and that it was a path I should follow. I took that to heart, as I do just about all that he says, still, I didn’t think there would really be any opportunity as I felt producers must have some sort of skill that I was lacking (although I wasn’t really sure what that would be).

In early February 2015 I started working for Theatre 20, initially without any title, just happy to be earning a living working in theatre in some capacity. When they decided what my role would be I was surprised to be given the title of Producer, but when they explained what I would be doing and why they thought that was the right role I realized, heh, that is what a producer does, that is what I’ve been doing and maybe this all isn’t as unattainable as I thought.

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35mm: A Musical Exhibition, Toronto Premiere, May 2015

A few months later (on a project outside of T20) I was the Assistant Producer for the Canadian premiere of 35mm: A Musical Exhibition and I found myself working on a show that starred an actress I had eagerly seen perform (and gotten an awkward fan photo with) about 10 years before. Small world, eh? And again, maybe not as impossible as I had thought.

Things with Theatre 20 didn’t work out but here again I learned some valuable lessons; don’t take people on their word. Don’t trust in someone just because you feel they are a “good person”. And when it comes down to it, it IS worth sticking to your guns and having a say, just make sure you get everything in writing so that if it comes back to bite you, you can prove that you were the one coming from the right place. I hope to be able to go into all of this in more detail in the new year.

What working with T20 did do, besides teaching me the above lessons, is give me the confidence to say, yes, I can be a producer. And so I went into those musicals feeling like I knew what I was doing. And I continued to put together Bygone, slowly easing more and more into a producer’s position. It also encouraged me to apply for the Assistant Producer position at Tarragon; I start there in the new year.

Bygone Theatre – INCORPORATED

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We didn’t change the name, didn’t add an “inc” or anything to it, so I guess most people would never know anything changed, but this year we applied and were granted non-profit incorporation status for Bygone Theatre and I couldn’t be happier. Granted, I have yet to make any money off this company (the shows with profit have directly financed the following shows – I don’t get paid for any of my work), BUT I can still say that at 26 years old I now own and run my own company, which is pretty nifty. Being non-profit meant I needed a board of directors and I am fortunate enough to have gotten an amazing team. Not only are they talented, with artistic opinions I respect, and a motivation and drive necessary for the company’s growth, they are great people and great friends. I think we’re set up well for the new year with this group at the helm.

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Bygone Board – Elizabeth, Conor, Elizabeth & Leete

More Freelance Work

As I did more work for my own company and other’s, I was surprised to find people actually liking what I’d done (who’d a thunk it?). I started doing some web design for friends and found that I liked it a lot. In the new year, I’m signing up for some more technical courses so that I feel qualified to advertise myself as a web designer, but already the encouragement I’ve gotten is great. Maybe this year some of that work will actually turn a profit!

True-Blue

As I’ve sort of said already, if I had to summarize this year with one general theme, one “lesson learned”, it would be knowing now who to trust (and not to) and who my true friends are. In some cases, it was obvious. In others, I was pleasantly surprised. But all round I’ve found that time together or apart has no baring on a friendship; it’s the quality of the person, not the quantity of the time spent together, and someone you’ve known for 12 years can cease to be a friend in a blink of an eye while someone you’ve known for 2 months can become your main source of support. I’ve been surprised by the kindness and generosity of a few people in particular, and in addition to knowing that I will pay them back as soon as I’m able, it’s also encouraged me to spread the love to some strangers. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends like these, I know, so it’s time to share some of that luck.

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What’s Next

I start my job as Assistant Producer at Tarragon Theatre on January 5, 2016. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I’m grateful for the chance to work with one of the most respected companies in the city, and know that at the very least, I will work with some talented people whose careers I aspire to. I’m sure there’ll be much more than that, but I’ll save it for when I actually start working there.

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With Bygone, I’m working on making the Retro Radio Hour a regular program and talking to some of those involved about how we can make it tighter and better; we’ve got some great ideas brewing. As well, I will be directing another show, something I’ve really missed doing for the past year, when we mount Wait Until Dark. Plus, I am finally getting the chance to produce Vaudeville Revue, something I have been thinking about for the past 3 or more years. This is the year to set down our guidelines, to make an impression, to prepare ourselves for the 2016-2017 season, which will be our first fully-scheduled regular season. Lots of work, but I’m ready – bring it on.

So to everyone who has been a part of this year, thank you. Regardless of what our interaction was, what our current relationship is, you all helped to shape a year that has been the one with the most personal and career-related growth in…I don’t even know how long. The positive moments inspire me and the negative ones push me to drive forward and prove that this year can be better. Let’s see what 2016 has in store.

-E.

Theatre 20’s 2015/2016 Season

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Standing with Jamieson Child, Matt McGrath & Michael Zahorak.

Monday June 8th was the Theatre 20 Season Launch Party, held at the snazzy Vagabondo Italian Ristorante + Lounge downtown. The event was a blast & well worth all the hard work. It was great to see a mix of theatre supporters, young & old, as well as industry members of all levels, from friends of mine just starting out to actors like T20 Founding Artist Brent Carver, who is not only a Tony winner but also the recipient of the prestigious Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement; the highest honour in the performing arts.

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The place was packed!

The night consisted of a lot of fancy food, schmoozing & mingling, and of course our season announcement. There were preview performances from each of the shows we have in development, as well as some numbers by former Emerging Artists. Nora McLellan performed a beautiful piece from The End that we are presenting in November, and David Keeley sang a Leonard Cohen song as an introduction to this season’s production of Chelsea Hotel.

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Happy to see Kenton Blythe & Matt McGrath, neither of whom I’d seen in a while, and to meet Kenton’s friend, fellow producer Conor Fitzgerald!

I don’t usually do well in crowds, or meeting new people, but the party was very relaxed and, maybe because it was a room full of artists and we were there to celebrate, everyone was in high spirits and very easy to talk to. I definitely need to work on my name-memorizing skills, but it was nice to be able to do more than the usual “nice to meet you” and to actually engage with some people and hear about all the awesome projects happening in the city this summer and over the next year.

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I had met Colleen at the Musical Theatre Grant Writing workshop that JJ and I attended months back – great to hear a piece of hers. And Chris Weber (board member & YPT fundraising genius) proved to be a great way to meet people, as he basically knows everyone.

I’ll write much more about each of these as we get into them more (at the moment, I’ve basically just been working on booking spaces for workshops, rehearsals & performances, so I don’t have much to say on the artistic side of things), but for now here’s a summary of our various development projects;

Musical Works
Co-Produced with Musical Works in Concert
Rehearsal, Dramaturgy, Workshop:  August 18-23, 2015
Performances:  August 20-23, 2015 – Factory Theatre, Toronto

The celebration of new Canadian musicals in concert will run August 20-23, 2015. Stay tuned for more details.

The End
Based on the poems of Wilfred Owen and letters to his mother during the Great War
Conceived and Written by Peter Hinton
Music by Leslie Arden, Linda Catlin Smith, Allen Cole, Veda Hille, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Derek Holman, John Millard, David Sereda, Rodney Sharman, David Warrack
Co-produced with Theatres of War
Showcase Presentation:  November 11, 2015 – Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
This show centres on the letters written by Wilfred Owen to his mother during the Great War, as well as Owen’s poetry. A showcase presentation will be held at the Tarragon Theatre on Rememberance Day, 2015.

A Misfortune
Book by Kevin Michael Shea, Music by Scott Christian
Lyrics by Wade Bogert-O’Brien & Kevin Michael Shea
Co-produced with the Confederation Centre
Workshop:  July 14 – August 7, 2015
Showcase Presentation:  August 7, 2015 – Confederation Centre, Charlottetown

A married woman and a young lawyer walk through the woods. Their friendship has reached an impasse. Previously featured at the Toronto Next Stage Festival, this adaptation of an Anton Chekov story is described as “a romantic, bittersweet musical about small moments and momentous decisions.”

The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry
Based on the book by Ivan & Anne Kronenfeld
Book by Jen Shuber, Music & Lyrics by Nicky Phillips
Development:  September, 2015 – April, 2016
A musical centring around the life of Dr. James Miranda Barry, a 19th century surgeon who lived his adult life as male, but was discerned as female upon his death.
JJ hits it off with David Keeley's wife, Laura Lynne Burton

JJ hits it off with David Keeley’s wife, Laura Lynne Burton

We’ve also got one major production, Chelsea Hotel;

Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Directed and Conceived by Tracey Power
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Steven Charles
A Firehall Arts Centre production in association with Theatre Passe Muraille
February 3-21, 2016 – Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto
The show, which had its world premiere in 2012 at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre, features the music of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. In it, six performers play seventeen different instruments in a tribute to the musical legend.
My Bygone buddy, Matt McGrath

My Bygone buddy, Matt McGrath

Then of course there are the training programs, the Conservatory & Composium, now both under the heading of “Academy”. Trimaine, our admin assistant, is spending the day calling & arranging audition times for the Conservatory, and I’m very happy to hear the names of a lot of talented people I know. Hopefully I’ll get to work with some of them this year.

So that’s about it! As I said, many more details, but I’ll get to those in time for the shows. For now my focus is bookings & fundraising here with T20, and then rehearsals & fundraising for Bygone; Kill Sister, Kill! is currently in the middle of auditions. Basically, I’m gonna spend the summer very broke, very tired, very busy & very fulfilled 🙂

-E.

Start spreading the news…

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Well, I’m not exactly leaving today, but the work has certainly started already! Happy to announce that the show I’ve been quietly working on since October has been accepted to the NYC Fringe! That’s right, Kill Sister, Kill! is headed to the New York International Fringe Festival this August!

I attended the Fringe last summer and was immediately hooked & eager to return with a show of my own. I was lucky enough to meet Jamieson Child when I directed Rope in the fall, and when he told me about the show he wrote with his brother Drac, I thought it would be the perfect fit. The brothers & I have been slowing expanding the book & have recently brought on a new composer, Mike Zahorak, to give the show the gritty 70’s feel we felt it was lacking. I’m producing the musical through Bygone Theatre, along with their company, Kid Switchblade Productions.

It’s going to be a busy few months but I’m totally pumped, and will keep posting details as often as I can. For now, check out the FB group for show updates.

-E.

Gone In A Flash – A 2 Show Performance That Came and Went in a Blink of an Eye

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The last two days saw the opening & closing of the Toronto Premiere of 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, a show for which I was the associate producer. Despite the very short run time, a lot of time & energy went into the show, on everyone’s part, and so while the build-up may have been less than I usually feel for one of my shows, the post-show crash, the feelings of “oh my god, what do I do now??? I need a new project!!!” are still there.

The play was a one-act musical by NYC composer Ryan Scott Oliver, and this production was directed by Melissa-Jane “MJ” Shaw, with music direction by Chris Tsujiuchi. Adrian Marchuk both produced and performed in the piece, and my Theatre 20 colleague Brian Goldenberg was the consulting producer.

The show doesn’t exactly have a plot…everything is loosely tied together with the words “Hold. Still. Focus.”, and there is an over-arching theme of relationships, love & loss, and the concept of photos and their place in modern day society. There was virtually no set, and very minimal props. The show relied on some simple but effective lighting changes, and the brilliant vocals by the cast of talented performers.

It’s always nice to see a show of this calibre, as there are no weak links; the band was spot-on, and while there were songs that I liked more than others, each singer had their chance to shine with a number of their own.

Jeigh Madjus wowed us with his incredible rock vocals in the opening number, and showed us a softer side with the beautiful ballad, “Cut You A Piece” late in the show. Michael Esposito II similarly shone in 2 completely different numbers; the quirky & creepy “Caralee” and the touching “The Seraph”, showcasing an impressive range of vocal styles & emotion. Adrian Marchuk was equally loveable in the darkly comic, melodramatic “Good Lady” (where he rocked a cloak & crown) as he was in one of my personal favourites, “Make Me Happy”, a feel-good, upbeat duet with Kelly Holiff. Holiff’s show-stopping number, however, has got to be “Leave Luanne”, a chilling country-style number about an abused & eventually murdered woman, that goes from a fairly typical song of hurt & heartache into an eerie ghost story. Backed up by the full cast, Holiff’s gut-wrenching emotion in this number gave me shivers, and when the entire cast began stomping to the beat & belting out the words you couldn’t help but feel shaken. Finally, Marisa Mcintyre beautifully displayed the light & dark sides of teenage love, angst and obsession. In “Monday” she plays a bubbly girl obsessed with a boy who nearly ignores her, telling her that she is “cute but juvenile”; the bright, poppy energy had me grinning and wanting to sing along. On the darker side, Mcintyre wraps up the show with the twisted number, “The Ballad of Sara Berry”, about a wannabe prom queen who kills off her competition. Funny, edgy, and perfectly performed this was another one of my favourites.

It’s too bad it was such a short run; I’ve been listening to the original cast recording, and I can honestly say, without bias, that this group performed it better. Here’s hoping my path will cross with all of theirs again sometime soon. For now, it’s time to move on to the next show!

-E.

35mm: A Musical Exhbition – TORONTO PREMIERE

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35MM PostcardVery excited to be working on this amazing show, the Toronto premiere of one of NYC’s hottest new composers, Ryan Scott Oliver. I am joining the team as the Associate Producer, and my Theatre20 co-worker, Brian Goldenberg, is working as the Producing Consultant. The show is less than a month away, and with this all-star cast tickets are sure to go fast; here’s all the info you need.

Hold. Still. Focus.

Get ready for an evening of mind-blowing music by one of New York’s hottest young composers, Ryan Scott Oliver.

Based on the photographs of Matthew Murphy, this innovate new song-cycle pushes the limits of self-expression to create an art form utterly its own. A collection of ‘snapshot stories’ are woven together as each of the evening’s original songs is performed – with gusto and musical virtuosity — while the audience is immersed in stunning projections of the photography that inspired it … a singular, multi-sensory emotional journey.

Featuring:

Adrian Marchuk (Jersey Boys, The Light In The Piazza)
Kelly Holiff (Dogfight, Hairspray, Rocky Horror)
Jeigh Madjus (Here Lies Love, La Cage)
Marisa McIntyre (Les Mis, Mamma Mia, Company)
Michael Esposito II (Spring Awakening, Edges)

Musical Direction by Chris Tsujiuchi
Directed by Melissa Jane Shaw

Producing Consultant Brian Goldenberg
Associate Producer Emily Dix

May 3 & 4, 8pm
The Great Hall (Queen & Dovercourt)
$25 ($20 artsworker/student discount)