Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In a Word...Keir Cutler on the Fringe (Montreal Fringe, Toronto Fringe)

Teaching Hamlet; Brett Watson (left) Keir Cutler (right) photographer Heather

From You Must Not Be Any Good

Keir Cutler has a Ph.D. in theatre from Wayne State University in Detroit, a playwriting diploma from the National Theatre School of Canada and has a B.A from McGill University. He is the author of the ebook, "THE SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP QUESTION: A CRACKPOT'S VIEW" available on Kindle. He is the playwright/performer of eight solo theatre plays. The multiple-award-winning, "Teaching Shakespeare: A Parody" (French translation, "Fou de Shakespeare"), "Teaching Detroit," a monologue adaptation of "Mark Twain's Is Shakespeare Dead?," "Teaching Witchcraft," "Lunatic Van Beethoven," "Teaching As You Like It," "Teaching the Fringe," and "Rant Demon." Mr. Cutler has performed his monologues across Canada, in New York City and other American cities. Four of his solo shows are on video and have been broadcasted on television by BRAVO!/CANADA. He has appeared in many local television and film projects filmed in the Montreal area. Notable performances include work with Jennifer Love Hewitt in "The Audrey Hepburn Story," and with Julien Poulin in "Bob Gratton- Ma Vie My Life."
CHARPO: You're a Fringe veteran. Tell us what has changed on the circuit, both good and bad.
CUTLER: When I started performing at Fringe festivals in 1999, the word “Fringe” had a poor reputation for lousy shows, particularly in Montreal and Toronto.  I remember photocopying programs and flyers for my new solo play “Teaching Shakespeare,” debuting at the 1999 Montreal Fringe.  A woman, that I’d never seen before in my life, making copies at the machine beside me, happened to look over my shoulder and see what I was doing and asked, 
“Are you performing in the Fringe festival?” 
I answered, “Yes.” 
She looked me straight in the face and said, “Well then you must not be any good!”

Nowadays, the Fringe has a much more respected reputation, since there have been so many hit shows, superlative performances, the Tony Award winner, The Drowsy Chaperone, and the original version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

What is bad about the Fringe circuit is it is now very difficult to get into Fringe festivals. Most festivals receive far more applications than they have spots, so setting up a tour is dependent on luck, and perseverance. In 2004, I performed at all eight major Canadian Fringe festivals, (something I have only done once), to do this today would be much more difficult.

Bitter rivalries are rare to non-existent, even though we are often in direct competition with each other for audiences.

CHARPO: How have you as a performer and your shows evolved over the years?

CUTLER: I don’t think I can properly assess my own evolution.  But I know I have always felt free to perform anything on any subject for the Fringe. TJ Dawe always says, “People who attend Fringe festivals just want to see something good.  They don’t care what the show is about.” This has always proven true for me. I have never had to ask myself whether a subject might work, only if I thought I could do something good with it. Hence several of my shows are controversial, and all nine of them have been successful. Incidentally all nine debuted at the Montreal Fringe Festival.  

CHARPO: Is Fringing still fun for you?

CUTLER: Yes, Fringing remains enormously fun. I have met several dozen performers over the years, and many have become great friends. TJ Dawe was my ‘best man’ at my wedding. 

One of the most surprising elements on the Fringe is the supportive nature of fellow performers. Bitter rivalries are rare to non-existent, even though we are often in direct competition with each other for audiences.  I suspect this is because we are all doing our own thing.  There is tremendous originality on the Fringe circuit.  

CHARPO: Now…on Shakespeare. You have a nemesis here at CharPo in Joel Fishbane - what do you think of the movement in GB (which he extols) to set the authorship question to rest once and for all?

CUTLER: I am very pleased that there is finally a movement in England to put the doubting of Shakespeare’s authorship to rest -once and for all - by trying to prove with absolute certainty that the man from Stratford wrote the Works.  I find it unacceptable that the Question has been largely ignored in academia, that is why I wrote my ebook, The Shakespeare Authorship Question:  A Crackpot’s View. 

Professor James Shapiro of Columbia University, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Shakespeare, and a strict believer in the traditional Stratfordian orthodoxy says, “I happen to believe that William Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems attributed to him.”  But Shapiro also admits that the Authorship Question “remains virtually taboo in academic circles . . . and walled off from serious study by Shakespeare scholars.”  This new book, titled Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, may change this “walling off” and put the orthodox point of view on trial. 

Instead of simply insulting and ignoring people like me who are often called “crackpots” for not believing the traditional story, now all academics will be forced to give both sides to their students.  At least that is my hope.  I think it will be difficult for professors to say, “Read this pro-Stratfordian book on the Question, and not at the same time tell them to read Diana Price’s anti-Stratfordian classic, Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography, which states, “If Shakespeare was the writer the title pages proclaim him to be, then there should be evidence of his literary career. He is the only alleged writer of any consequence from the time period who left behind no personal evidence of his career as a professional writer. His biographers must rely instead on posthumous, ambiguous, impersonal and non-literary evidence to make their case.”  If students do finally get to hear both sides of the argument they will finally be able to make up their own minds, not simply accept unquestioned dogma that “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.” 

As far as Joel Fishbane being my nemesis, I am honoured to have such a brilliant playwright and theatre commentator as a foil.

CHARPO:  Tell us, specifically, about the shows you're taking to Montreal and Toronto this year.

CUTLER: This summer I am remounting my very first Fringe show, Teaching Shakespeare at the Montreal Fringe, and bringing my hit two-actor show Teaching Hamlet to the Toronto Fringe.  I am very excited about both opportunities.

Teaching Shakespeare debuted in Montreal in 1999, and here it is 14 years later and the show lives on.  I have performed it almost every year since, and it has been a hit everywhere it’s played.  I even performed it in French in 2005.  I imagine I will be performing Teaching Shakespeare until I die, or forever, if science finally gets off its ass and makes us all immortal. 

Teaching Hamlet  is my first two-actor show, and I have the great pleasure of working with Brett Watson onstage and Paul Hopkins as a director. Both are extremely talented.

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