Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In a Word... Christine Lesiak on Ask Aggie (Fringe: Winnipeg)

Photo credit: Marc-Julien Objois

An Opinion on Everything
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Christine Lesiak is an Edmonton-based performer, singer, writer, and co-founder of Small Matters Productions. She is co-creator of Small Matters Productions' Fools for Love (2012), Sofa So Good (2010) and Why Do Fools Fall in Love? (2008), in which she performs as Sheshells. She has improvised with Edmonton's Rapid Fire Theatre and appeared on various Edmonton stages in both dramatic and clown-inspired roles, at the Toronto Festival of Clowns and the New York Clown Theater Festival and has created and performed numerous short clown works in countless festivals and cabarets. She has trained extensively in the Canadian/Pochinko style of clown with Jan Henderson (Fool Moon Productions) and Michael Kennard (Mump and Smoot). Other key influences include clown with Aitor Basori (Spymonkey); bouffon with Adam Lazarus; improvisation (Rapid Fire Theatre, Keith Johnstone); immersive theatre (punchdrunk, UK); and puppetry (The Old Trout Puppet Workshop). Christine has a BSc in Physics from the University of New Brunswick.

CHARPO:  When I read our Ottawa reviewer's piece on your production I thought: why hasn't anyone thought of this before?! did you think of it?

LESIAK: The idea for Aggie started percolating in my brain in late 2011. She is very much inspired by one of my aunts who was married several times, moved around a lot and has a hilarious opinion on everything. I also really wanted to explore a female character who is mature, sexy, smart, and unapologetically relishes her strength from age and experience. It seemed to me that an advice columnist was an excellent vehicle to bring this worldly character to life. 

It became clear to me that Aggie is more rooted in the bouffon end of the clown universe

CHARPO: Did you know there is an actual Ask Aggie who writes books with cleaning tips? (Doncha love Google?)

LESIAK: I did not! The original working name for her was Aunt Agony -  it morphed somewhere in the process. My Aggie will scrape the sludge off your psyche. 

CHARPO:  Tell us about the process from idea to Fringe solo.

LESIAK: It's been quite a journey, as these things usually are! 

In early 2012 I did some mask work with my director and dramaturg Jan Henderson to get a beginning sense of who this woman was. It became clear to me that Aggie is more rooted in the bouffon end of the clown universe, rather than the red-nose style I've been performing for the last six years (our duo show, Fools for Love, toured last year, and we will be performing it this summer in Swift Current's Chautauqua Festival, and the Saskatoon, Victoria & Vancouver fringes). 

So in spring 2012, I spent some time studying with Toronto bouffon teacher Adam Lazarus. Adam was instrumental in helping shape her attitude and physicality. It was also there that I tested out the idea of collecting audience questions and answering them live with no pre-screening of the questions. It worked surprisingly well, and although it was terrifying, it was also incredibly thrilling. 

Then in Fall 2012 I found out I needed a show for several Fringes, and nothing gets you moving like a deadline. I spent the Fall and Winter of 2012/13 writing - monologues, parodies of jazz standards - occasionally surfacing to read it to Henderson. After much editing and some painful cuts it became the show that premiered at the Ottawa Fringe - an unusual but effective mélange of song parodies, monologues, and improvisation.

each show is quite different depending on how the audience responds, and what kind of questions they ask

CHARPO:  What did you think of your run in the Capital?

LESIAK: The run in Ottawa was incredibly informative. I knew going in it would be a very challenging first run since Ask Aggie - The Advice Diva is a show with no fourth wall. I know from experience that until I played in front of a real audience responding to the character in each moment I could only guess at what would work, and even IF the show would work as a whole. The show grew tremendously through that run as I grew more comfortable with the format and learned better how to play with the audience. And each show is quite different depending on how the audience responds, and what kind of questions they ask.  It was a very rewarding experience and left me excited to bring the show to both Winnipeg and Edmonton. 

CHARPO: What did you learn there that you'll be applying to Winnipeg - one of the most massive fests on the circuit?

LESIAK: There are of course the inevitable in-between-run tweaks to text and movement.  But most importantly it was a reaffirmation that the best comedy is grounded in painful truths, and a reminder to be unflinching when delivering those truths. 
As an artist weaned on the Edmonton Fringe, Winnipeg doesn't scare me. Much.

CHARPO: Finally - the hard one - why should readers go see Ask Aggie?

LESIAK: I promise it will be a show unlike anything you've ever seen... and you'll never think of the song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" the same way ever again.

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