Toronto is a machine constantly churning out fresh art. The HATCH program is one of the reasons why this process is constant. Every year Harbourfront invites a hand full of artists to experiment, rehearse, and present new works to a keen and inquisitive audience.
To learn more about the program go here: http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/hatch/
There were an array of shows – and luckily we have posting materials from most of them, including an interview with Jess Dobkin the guest curator of the entire HATCH program.
The first interview we have ready for you this afternoon is from the effervescent and imaginative directors of Paper Laced with Gold. Even if you did not get a chance to see it you will definitely enjoy Stephanie and Maggie’s whimsical and astute insights into the Toronto Arts Community, the impact of imagination, and the malleability of an artist’s professional identity.
Now it’s time to let Maggie MacDonald and Stephanie Markowitz speak for themselves. Have a brilliant afternoon!
How did the execution of this story surprise you?
Creating with collaborators always brings the unexpected. For the HATCH experience, we had a supportive group of people who worked well together, which is the most important thing to me. I’ve worked with Stephanie Markowitz for a long time, and she and I synch up easily, no surprises there! It’s always magic. But I had never worked with Stevie Jackson before, so giving my words over to him was a leap of faith. What he did with the music was outside of my imagination. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear it, both for the first time, opening my email to hear each track through my headphones, and then to hear the music developing with the full band. The players, Stevie, Lisa Bozikovic, Katie Ritchie, John Power, and the actors, Liz Peterson, Vanessa Dunn, Bojana Stancic and Drew Smith, brought out things in the songs that I had not and could not foresee, giving the story more life than mere words ever could.
Watching the characters evolve in the imaginations of the performers was a great thrill. The progress of the performers whose background was in music, not theatre, was especially amazing. Drew Smith charmed everyone, he has such an expressive face. Stevie had only done “silent acting” in Belle and Sebastian videos before the show. I made him say lines because he had said something about not wanting to. And he did a great job!
Elaborate on the significance of the title.
The value of gold is based in collective fantasy. Gold doesn’t sustain life, like water or wheat. A contract for labour or marriage is like paper laced with gold, because the agreement is only valuable as long as the parties involved behave in a way that honours that fantasy. When factories suddenly close, whole towns are left holding a contract that no longer has any value. Imagine being stuck in a desert with a gold ring, but not a drop of water. Suddenly the ring means nothing.
Our show is about the children of that broken contract between labour and industry, the young generation trying to find it’s way in the former industrial towns of the Great Lakes Region.
The town of Marathon, Ontario, bears the motto “Built on Paper, Laced with Gold” because it was once a paper mill town, like Cornwall, Ontario, where I am from. They lost their mill too. Now, imagine the motto without the comma.
That’s the meaning behind the title.
What questions about your own artistic practice did you use to inspire the rehearsal process?
What are the unique talents our collaborators have, and how do we draw these out in the rehearsal process? And (thanks to Jess Dobkin for posing this one) why are we performing the show live, rather than making a film?
How does the one week, compressed rehearsal process, augment the way you experience new discoveries in the rehearsal room/performance?
In a compressed period like HATCH you can try out new ideas the moment they occur to you. The flash of inspiration never comes in isolation. It creates a shared excitement.
It also facilitates the gelling of the team. We were able to put musicians, actors and a designer on stage together and get everyone connected. When it was over and we had to return to our post-HATCH lives, I was heartbroken. Like my commune got busted up. Long live the commune!
How do you think presenting a work in development changes your expectations of the audience, and of your expectations as a creator while watching your work?
It invites the audience to give feedback more openly than if they had the sense the piece was ‘final.’ It also allows the performers to take more risks, and not feel they have to ask permission for everything they’d like to try.
Describe three occurrences in the play that you rarely see presented on a stage. (What was it exciting for you to bring these instances to the fore?)
Staging a musical in which the band are also characters, interacting and talking, is unusual. For me, with a background as a touring musician, it feels quite natural to do that.
Stephanie and I ask performers to do things they are not used to doing, have them try new things. You don’t usually see a set designer singing and dancing in the space she created, but that’s exactly what Bojana Stancic did in Paper Laced with Gold.
Stevie and I also layer a great deal of references into our work, sometimes to a comedic effect, which I think is the product of being “rememberers,” collectors of moments as well as cultural artifacts. In addition to everything else that’s happening with the characters and the story, there is an aspect to seeing the show that is a bit like checking out someone’s record collection when you visit their house for the first time. What’s on the shelf? Oh Johnny Cash, Link Wray, Otis Redding, Brecht, a little Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John, and even Teresa Brewer. Nothing is a “guilty pleasure.”
Describe three occurrences in the play that you believe most people will identify with.
1. Betty is stuck in a truck stop. She picked up some shifts for a weekend, and stayed ten years, no love to speak of. A lot of us have a kind of “stuck at the truck stop” period in our lives.
2. Strange love. I’ll go into detail on this in the last answer, but platonic odd couples and imaginary love are phenomena a lot of people can relate to.
3. I think a lot of people daydream about having a soundtrack to their lives, a theme song that plays when they enter a room. We’ve amplified that fantasy, plugged it in with a patch cable.
What artists of performance, or beyond performance inspire your work?
There are many artists that inspire what we do, and we are lucky to share a community with some of them too.
John Waters and Andy Warhol are two big inspirations. They cast the fantasists in their everyday lives to play out their dreams on screen. Waters cast the lady from his local thrift store in Baltimore, Warhol cast the drag queens and musicians he knew from his scene. Acting in our shows can be a bit like doing drag, because the artists we work with are really “putting on” these characters, in a playful way. A raw and vulnerable individual dons a feather boa and unleashes a dream from within, and the audience is meant to see the dreamer as well as the dream. Like Belinda Carlisle wearing her garbage bag dress in LA in 1977, before the Go-gos made her famous, she was just chilling with The Germs, bringing the DIY glamour in a garbage bag.
Sometimes our actors are literally in drag, but that’s a casting, or should I say recruiting, choice based on what talent is in our community, rather than a theoretical position. We didn’t set out saying, “hey, let’s have two lesbians play teenage boys.” Instead, Stephanie and I said, “Wow, imagine the singer from the Organ (Katie) and the singer from Vag Halen (Vanessa) were in our show? We love them! They’re incredible! Let’s have them play the juvenile delinquents” who just happen to be gay teenage boys.
How does this piece specifically reflect the Toronto-Arts-Ecology? (if not, then, why?)
Great question. I came of age as an artist in the world of Will Munro, Stephanie was part of his world too. Going to Vazaleen and Peroxide, I met other artists, and through a kind of playful love, we all ended up doing art together. In the 2000s there was a strong inter-disciplinary culture in the arts in Toronto, especially in the music scene– but we didn’t call it “inter-disciplinary,” it’s just what we did. When the Hidden Cameras first got going, there were painters, dancers and filmmakers in the band. I was a political activist and a writer, but Joel Gibb recruited me, and suddenly I was a musician too.
I used to joke that I wasn’t a “real musician” but I learned to play, and I even joined the AFM, so what’s not real about that? To be an artist is to make a vessel of yourself, so something larger than you can be communicated through you. People have their training, and their talents, but I don’t think there are “real” and “fake” musicians, writers, directors, actors. If you can open yourself, you can create collectively, and you can perform various roles in the creation of a work of art.
Stephanie and I recruit collaborators from the world around us, and we ask the amazing artists we know, who might fit the project, to participate. We don’t ask “where will we find a designer?” We think, “Who is in synch with the aesthetic we are going for? Who does this story resonate with?” And work from there, and we end up casting designers as singers, singers as actors. Our process is based in community, and we are fortunate enough to live at the confluence of several incredible creative worlds- “Will’s children,” the queer community, the music community, the film community, and here we are, building a nest in the theatre community, so we can bring artists from these worlds together in our troupe.
Five words – describe the experience you aspired to create for the audience.
Be vulnerable. Dream with us.
What question do you find the most challenging to answer about the work-in-progress-being presented situation? Answer that question.
Dreaming is easy, but the practical questions are hardest. I know that’s probably not what you mean, but that’s what I always struggle with. Organizing the details. The rest is bliss.
Discuss the presence of surprising/unique representations of love, and companionship in this piece.
The platonic love between a gay teen boy and a thirty-something female virgin is the main bond in the piece. Platonic love and chosen families should be celebrated every day.
There’s also imaginary love. Betty is sustained by a fantasy about a shared love with someone she only met once. It seems like it’s enough for her, because she is so afraid of being hurt or disappointed. Rather than move on with her life, or attempt to contact the person she dreams of, she stays in the truck stop in Terrace Bay, writing about him in her diary.
We had a photo of Betty’s imaginary lover hidden on set. It was actually a picture of Phil Oakey, of the band Human League. The inclusion of the photo was inspired by the video “Love Action” in which Phil barges in on a church wedding, wearing a Canadian tuxedo (apparently, they do jeans on jeans in Sheffield) and watches in agony as the woman he loves marries another guy. “When you’re in love, you know you’re in love no matter what you try to do…” Clearly, Phil understands what Betty is going though. Why didn’t he don a real tuxedo and bust that wedding up for true? He just cries from a pew in the video. Because he is utterly terrified of loving that woman, because to lose her would kill him. So he just cries about it and writes songs.