Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In a Word... Gillian English on Drag Queen Stole My Dress

Making a Life Story...less sad
It's an autobiographical story about how I got lost in a toxic relationship and eventually called off my wedding. It's a comedy!
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Gillian English is the Artistic Producer and founder of The Theatre Elusive. Originally from Nova Scotia, she trained in theatre at Dalhousie University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). A Toronto based performer; Ms English has headlined the London Big Comedy Go-To, and The Spring Fever Festival. In the past, 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. Ms English is also the curator of the online-dating message blog: Recent theatre credits include: Love in the Time of Time Machines (The Theatre Elusive), A Woman of No Importance (Alumnae Theatre Company), 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)

CHARPO:  Let me see if I have this straight - you enter the Fringe lotteries, prepare an idea for the ones you get into and - poof! - get an acceptance for Frigid in the Big Apple, set to happen months before our Fringe season. How the heck did all this come to be?

ENGLISH: I applied for the Frigid while I was at the Atlantic Fringe this past September. The 'first come, first serve' was what I was aiming for, it's how we got "Love in the Time of Time Machines" in the festival the year before. But there were technical internet issues, and my application was not one of the first 15 in, so I had to wait until the lottery on Halloween. Well, that came and went and I didn't get in. So that was that. Then at 1:15am on January 15, my phone made the little 'email ding' sound and woke me up. I checked it and it was an email from Frigid saying someone had dropped out, and I was next on the list if I wanted it. I had to read the email about six times before it sunk in what was going on. At that point the adrenaline kicked in, and my mind started racing. I hadn't planned on premiering my show until the Montreal Fringe in June, there was a lot of work to be done and less than five weeks to do it in. But it never occurred to me that I would say no. I had a director at LAMDA who used to say "If someone calls you up, and they say 'Gillian we need you to play Lady MacBeth. The show opens tomorrow.' You say YES. You always say yes. Then you figure everything else out later."

I'm a magnet for weird dudes; I'm terrible at dating it never goes well.

CHARPO: How many Fringes will you be going to after NYC?

ENGLISH: As of right now I'm only in the Montreal Fringe. I'm 4th on the waiting list for Calgary, and 2nd on the wait list for the Island Fringe in PEI. I'm also planning on applying to the Atlantic Fringe again once their applications open. I've never had much luck winning the big lotteries, except for Montreal. But I love the Montreal Fringe, so I guess it all works out

CHARPO: Tell us about the show.

ENGLISH: My show is called "Drag Queen Stole My Dress". It's an autobiographical story about how I got lost in a toxic relationship and eventually called off my wedding. It's a comedy! I have my best people (Chris Gibbs, Brie Watson, Megan Fraser) helping me edit and shape my script. Brie says not to worry, we'll find a way to make my life story seem less sad! The genesis of this play came from a friend of mine I play Aussie Rules Football with. During our warm-up runs she always asked me to tell her stories about whatever horrible date I'd been on that week. I'm a magnet for weird dudes; I'm terrible at dating it never goes well. And she'd always tell me I should do a comedy show called "The Failed Relationships of Gillian English". Me being me, I told her I would someday. Then last year at the Montreal Fringe, I was talking to solo-show wonder woman Yana Kesala, and we were talking about relationships. She stopped me and said "You know this is a show, right? You have to write a show." So I thought about it, and I talked to people like Dan Bingham, Sam Mullins, Gerard Harris, Shane Adamczak, and Jon Bennet; all kinds of people doing great solo work at that festival. They were all super encouraging and gave me great advice about how to approach it; so I said I would do it, and that was that. I started planning "The Failed Relationships of Gillian English" before the festival was even half over. Then, a few days later, a drag queen participating in 13th Hour took my dress off the wardrobe rack, put it on and was just wandering around Cabaret du Mile End in my clothes like it was no big thing. Our conversation was very interesting to say the least. "Drag Queen Stole My Dress" is a much better title for a show than "The Failed Relationships of Gillian English". It was also one of the more surreal moments in my life, which is really saying something. My life is bizarre.

I've been told to cut wheat, sugar, dairy, and carbs and watch my weight melt away!

CHARPO: Are you trying to prepare a finished product for NYC (ie: flipping out from lack of time) or are you being coolie-cool?

ENGLISH: I am trying to prepare a finished and polished piece to present in New York. It will obviously still be a work in progress, but I don't want it to look that way. It all comes down to me in the end, and how much energy I'm prepared to throw at it. I was running on pure adrenaline all day yesterday. I couldn't do a lot during the day, because I have a side career in charitable fundraising, and that work needs doing too. So I was in fight or flight mode all day, with no one to punch and nowhere to run. As soon as my work day ended, I attacked the mountain of emails that were coming my way from New York. I booked a preview and fundraiser at Comedy Bar for February 17 at 8:00pm (Tickets are $15 at the door or online at I re-booked my photo shoot with Dahlia Katz, because we had planned on doing this next month. What I'm most concerned about now is fitting into my costume, which is the wedding dress I bought five years ago for my wedding that obviously never happened. I thought I had until June to make sure it zipped up the whole way again, but now I have a little over a month. I've been told to cut wheat, sugar, dairy, and carbs and watch my weight melt away! Of course, I'm also going to a Colombian girdle and corset shop tomorrow, which I think will prove just as effective.

So, I am freaking out a bit, but I'm doing my best to channel that energy into being productive. I have a "Don't Panic" tattoo on my forearm for a reason. Well two reasons; I also really love Douglas Adams.

CHARPO: Have you performed in NYC? Tell us about how it all makes you feel?

ENGLISH: I have performed in New York twice before. The first time was on tour with LAMDA after I finished my post grad, which was a bit of whirlwind experience, and last year with "Love in the Time of Time Machines" at the Frigid. I love New York, it's a tough market, but I love the hustle when it pays off. I made so many friends there last year, I'm just excited to go back and play with them! Festivals are great because of the creative mentality they foster, they're so much less stressful than doing an indie production. Frigid is a different sort of Fringe, it's the middle of the winter, there's no beer tent, but they do a great job of making you feel welcome and supported. I've done this festival before, so I know what I'm getting into. I won't accidentally go to Brooklyn on my way to orientation this year, I hope.

CHARPO: Now that I've stressed you out enough, what are you going to do to handle the stress, first, and PR prep?

ENGLISH: To handle the stress, I'm going to sleep and make sure I don't skip footy training or bail on too many previous commitments. I don't want this to consume my life; this festival will dominate my life for the next little while for sure, but I won't let it consume me. I'll stay on top of my deadlines, (all which seem to be NOW!!!) finish my script and start rehearsing. I have an hour's worth of lines to learn, which should scare me, but I figure I'm telling my life story, I already know what happens next. 

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