Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In a Word... Sam Mullins on the upcoming Fringe (2014) frenzy

The Fringe, Broken Hearts, Blazing Through and Fatherly feelings
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Sam S Mullins is a Vancouver-turned-Toronto-based writer/humorist.  He is a staff writer for the CBC sketch comedy radio program The Irrelevant Show.  As a storyteller, he is a regular contributor to the CBC storytelling program Definitely Not the Opera, has contributed to NPR's The Moth and has been featured on the New York-based comedy podcast RISK!.  His one-man show Tinfoil Dinosaur won "Best of Fest" at the Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal Fringe Festivals, and was nominated for the 2012 Just for Laughs Award for Best Comedy.  His new solo-show Weaksauce just picked up the 2013 Award for Best Script at the Montreal Fringe, was nominated for the 2013 Just for Laughs Award for Best Comedy and was selected to be Held Over at the 2013 Edmonton Fringe.
CHARPO: It seems to me the Fringe season has just ended and here we are with the lotteries! First, how many are you in for sure, and have you wound down at all?

MULLINS: So far, for my 2014 Fringe tour, I'm confirmed in Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver. I'm waiting to hear on Calgary and Victoria's lotteries.  I was also fortunate enough to get my show Weaksauce into UNO, which is a Victoria-based solo festival in May that I've always wanted to participate in.  I couldn't be more excited about it.  I studied at UVIC, and I haven't had the opportunity to go back and perform there since I graduated in 2008. I'm sure it'll make for a pretty nostalgic time.  Lots of me pointing at inanimate objects and turning to the person (who isn't really there) and saying softly, "Remember?".

I'd say I allowed myself some 'wind down' time after this year's tour.  I took off all of September to sort of bum around in British Columbia.  Y'know. I swam in lakes, drank some wine, ate some casserole prepared by my mother, caught up on some reading and AMC programs. It was pretty fantastic, actually. 

I even quit smoking again. But if my Mom asks, I didn't restart in the first place.

Fatherly is going to feel like a piece of journalism a la This American Life.

CHARPO: Your last outing was extremely well-received - what's the plan for the next one? And have you used the Fringe-buzz to your advantage?

MULLINS: I'm currently in the process of writing a new show called Fatherly, which will be premiering in January as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival in Toronto. I guess the plan is that this show hopefully won't be a disaster, and it will be the piece that I tour on the Fringe this summer.

I'm really excited about this one.  The story itself is so solid, it doesn't even need me.  I feel like usually when I'm working on a show, so much of it involves meticulously structuring and outlining and writing humorous flowery tangents to make the story work. But this show doesn't need any of that. I could just stand on stage and say the sequence of events chronologically and it would still be an incredible story. I can't wait to see what audiences think of it.

It's going to feel a lot different from my previous two shows, I think. This story is less about me than the others. In many ways, Fatherly is going to feel like a piece of journalism a la This American Life. I've proven that I can tell my own story, but now I want to prove that I can tell a story that's bigger than me.  I'm up for the challenge. 

Fringe buzz is definitely the currency of what we do. I've found that the most valuable way of getting a leg-up on the competition is getting one of those preview articles before the festival even starts. I'll get a mention sometimes when the writer has reviewed one of my past shows, but my problem is, I don't have wacky or zany enough press photos to get them in the paper. It always makes me laugh, every single paper's Fringe preview photo will inevitably be of a clown. This is what society thinks all of us do. 

Which, I suppose isn't too far off the mark now that I think of it.

This summer, I had my heart broken worse than it's ever been broken before.

CHARPO: So, for the uninformed, what was the best and worst thing about touring last year?


The best thing - as always - was just those really magical nights at the performer cabarets in Montreal and Edmonton. Those moments where you look around and think, "Yup. I've found my tribe". We struggle together. We have triumphs together. We support each other. We inspire each other. We tell jokes. We share our nightmare performance stories with each other. And then we dance the night away. I literally can't imagine anything better.

The worst thing? Honestly? Aw man.

This summer, I had my heart broken worse than it's ever been broken before. It made for some interesting shows in Winnipeg. 

CHARPO:   I'm assuming that the fact the lotteries are so early also means companies are prepping already. What are you doing now, in December '13, to prepare for May '14?

MULLINS: Right now, I'm fully in writing mode on Fatherly. I'm lucky this year that I got into Next Stage, because whether this show is a real clunker or a hit, I get to mount it, perform it ten times, then put it away for four months to let it ferment. I love taking time away from my scripts. I avoid them as long as I can, so I can approach it with as fresh eyes as possible when Fringe season rolls around.

CHARPO: Finally, besides prepping for Fringe tours, what do you do in the off-season?

MULLINS: Well, I've been writing on staff for CBC Radio's The Irrelevant Show, so that takes up a lot of time. This is my first full season on the show, and it's sort of a dream job. Writing sketch comedy is one of my favourite things in the world. I've also contributed stories recently to CBC's DNTO and NPR's The Moth.

I've been gig-ing a lot. It seems like I'll be performing at something at least twice a week. Fundraisers, story shows, stand-up shows, sketch shows - I'll always be prepping for something.  I say "yes" to a lot of invites, even if I don't really want to.  I think it keeps me sharp.

Also, to combat the solipsism that comes with being a writer, I have a couple of volunteer gigs which are really important to me.  I am a mentor to at-risk youth with an incredible organization called Stepstones.  And I also have a weekly engagement at an old folks' home where I go and have visits with some amazing 90+ seniors.  My stories don't hold a candle to the life stories these people have.

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