Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Feature: Gillian English on Theatre Elusive's Love in the Time of Time Machines (Atlantic Fringe, Montreal Fringe)

Thank you Mindy Kaling
Theatre Elusive and The Fringe
by Gillian English

Gillian English is the Artistic Producer and founder of The Theatre Elusive. Originally from Nova Scotia, Gillian trained in theatre at Dalhousie University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). A Toronto based performer, Ms English is one half of the comedy duo “The Young Geologists”, who have headlined the London Big Comedy Go-To, and The Spring Fever Festival. In the past year she has been featured by the CBC, CTV, The National Post, and NOW! Magazine and many other media outlets for her work in the theatre and comedy. Recent theatre credits include: A Woman of No Importance (Alumnae Theatre), Antony and Cleopatra (The Theatre Elusive), I Don’t Like You (The Theatre Elusive), Matt and Ben (The Theatre Elusive), The Wormwood Prince (Next Stage Theatre)

Mindy Kaling is the only reason The Theatre Elusive exists. Ever since I read her play “Matt and Ben” (co-authored by Brenda Withers) I had wanted to play the part of Ben Affleck. By 2011, I realized that waiting for someone else to produce the show, and cast me was an inefficient way of pursuing my goal. So, having no idea what I was getting myself into, I started a company and became a producer.

With a great deal of help from Mikaela Dyke, Dahlia Katz and Rob Salerno I mounted my first production. There was a very steep learning curve, but I managed to come out of it alive. I didn’t burn down the theatre. I called it a win. After that I just wanted to keep going, so I did. I produced a Toronto run of Mikaela Dyke’s award winning show “Dying Hard”. I put on a festival of new works called “The Spring Fever Festival”. In the summer the company did a sketch comedy show in Halifax called “I Don’t Like You”. While in Halifax I picked up a copy of Mindy Kaling’s book “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns)”. I read it on the flight back to Toronto, and one piece of advice really stuck with me. It was essentially this: If you’re a young actor in this business trying to get noticed, write yourself the ideal role in the ideal play, then do it. It made enough sense to me. I set out to do exactly what Mindy Kaling told me to do.

We were laughing so much I’m surprised we got anything done.

I’ve never really been a writer, but I have friends who are damn fine writers. I immediately called up Ned Petrie and David Tichauer. I asked them to write me a play we’d take it to the New York Frigid Festival and any Canadian Fringe we could get into.  I still had The Theatre Elusive’s mammoth production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” to tackle, but I was excited at the prospect of creating new work.

What we came up with was “Love in the Time of Time Machines” After a brief discussion, it was decided that we only wanted one person to direct the show: Chris Gibbs. Thank God he said yes when I asked him. Chris Gibbs (for the un-initiated) is a brilliant performer and comedian. He’s very British and very witty, and exactly the person we wanted at the helm of Love in the Time of Time Machines.

Getting ready for our premiere in New York was a daunting task. The script needed to be solidified, characters and the relationships fleshed out. Rehearsals were a wild ride. There were three professional comedians plus me working on the show. We were laughing so much I’m surprised we got anything done. Anything could happen during that process, literally. One night a woman marched into the rehearsal studio, sat down and demanded we perform some Shakespeare for her. After much convincing she eventually left; dejected and saddened by the lack of classical performance. Afterward I felt terrible; we should have done something for her. After all, David had originally lobbied hard to play the part of the snake in Antony and Cleopatra; that could have been his moment.

It’s a fleeting experience that cannot truly be captured or recreated.

Before we took our time travelling love story to New York, we gave Toronto a preview on Valentine’s Day at Comedy Bar. It was our first real crack at it. We hadn’t had a tech run or had time to try out the quick changes in the tiny backstage space. It was a great test for us; no matter what we would never be less prepared for a performance than we were that night. Everything that came after could only be better. The show at Comedy Bar went well, but it had its hiccups (the Time Dialator 3000 got stuck on David’s head, and he barrelled into the news desk behind the curtain). It probably helped that the audience was full of friends, family and sci-fi nerds. Just like with “Matt and Ben” the theatre didn’t burn down; winning! 

The best part was seeing the work come alive. Until a play is performed it doesn’t really exist. Then it bursts into existence for an hour or two, and then it’s a memory. It waits on the page to live again, but it will never be the same; every performance is different. It’s a fleeting experience that cannot truly be captured or recreated. That is why I called my company The Theatre Elusive.

After the Valentine’s Day show we were ready. Our performance venue in the East Village was small, it had a narrow backstage and the pipes clanked loudly at odd and unpredictable intervals. But it was the perfect place to debut our show. The audience was excited and generous. After our very first show we had a woman jump up and give us a standing ovation. She came up to us as soon as we were done, to tell us how much she loves time travel. It’s a lot. She loves time travel a lot. I’m pretty sure she was more enthused about the time travel than our story, but either way she was excited. Our run in New York was a success; we won Best of Fest and the Audience Choice award. 

I’ve also learned to shamelessly plug my projects

Now we (sort of) know what we’re doing and we have a show that’s ready to go. We are so excited to be going to the Montreal and Atlantic Fringe Festivals this summer. I have heard nothing but great things about the Montreal Fringe. Apparently it is by far the most fun of any stop on the circuit. Of course the Atlantic Fringe is exciting as well. I’m from Nova Scotia, so the opportunity to perform and go home is very enticing. I know the Atlantic Fringe has been changing and growing over the last few years, and I cannot wait to see what the Halifax artists have created.

I’ve never done a Fringe tour before so everything is new and exciting to me. I like it that way. I have found that the best way to do things, is to just dive in and do it. It sounds silly. “Oh, the best way to do things is to just do things? Thanks for coming out Gill, great advice.” But, I have had so many conversations and wasted hours upon hours talking about projects with people who have no intention of ever following through. I cannot do that. I cannot talk about it, dream about it and then never even try. The most important lesson I have learned about this business so far: nobody owes you anything. You are not entitled to an audition, or a role. Nobody owes a career. If you want it, go get it.

I’ve also learned to shamelessly plug my projects: please come see Love in the Time of Time Machines this summer in Montreal and Halifax.

And thank you Mindy Kaling.

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