Q&A With Cody Campanale, director and writer of Jackie Boy

Edward Charette, left, as Kal and Alino Giraldi, right, as Jack in Jackie Boy

Jackie Boy is a recently-released Canadian drama written and directed by Cody Campanale, starring Alino Giraldi and Shannon Coulter. It tells the story of Jack (Giraldi), a self-destructive womanizer in a working-class Canadian town, who tries to change his life when he meets and falls for Jasmine (Coulter). Unknown to Jack, however, Jasmine has a hidden agenda.

Cody Campanale is an Ottawa-based director, writer, producer, and filmmaker. Jackie Boy is his first feature film.

Adina: There seems to be an implication that Kal is attracted to Jack, but it is never confirmed or fully articulated. Was Kal trying to keep Jack from changing, or trying to keep Jack for himself? Or is that implication simply not true?

Cody Campanale: I think Kal’s in love with Jack, but he’s too confused and frustrated by his own distorted notions of masculinity to comprehend that his admiration of Jack’s ‘manliness’ is actually a closeted love he feels for his best friend. With this in mind, many of Kal’s actions in the later part of the film can be seen as those of a jealous lover. A lover completely rejected by someone they never saw themselves living without.

A: Throughout the film, I noticed that the men tend to deny the severity of the violence the women face. Jack and Kal excuse Jack posting photos of Sasha without her consent, Jack tries to dismiss Jasmine’s fear after Kal chases her, and so on. Was there a deliberate point you were trying to make about this?

C: I would define the characters in this film as emotionally disconnected youth living in an emotionally disconnected landscape. This emotional disconnect allows all the characters to act in ways that are insensitive, violently destructive and just plain nasty. I chose to focus our lens on the men because I wanted to further explore the dangers that living in this emotionally disconnected landscape can have on ‘conditioned’ male notions of masculinity when left unaddressed.
Also, one could probably argue that throughout human history, great destruction and harm has come from the actions of men. This is a pretty scary thought and something I think influences my work as a filmmaker to some degree.

A: Were you afraid that the brutality and explicit nature of the ending would turn any viewers off? If so, why keep it in the movie?

C: We always knew the ending would be polarizing. And to be honest, I rather enjoy films that tend to have polarizing endings. It’s important to note, as difficult as the ending was for people to watch, it was just as difficult for us to shoot. The actors were emotionally drained and destroyed after each take (and there were very few takes). The crew members who were on set when the cameras rolled, left the set in tears. It was one of the most difficult things I ever had to create. While writing it, I kept asking myself if the scene in question was needed to articulate the film’s ideas and I kept concluding that it was. I could have written another ending, one that was less violent perhaps, or possibly more optimistic, but it wouldn’t have captured the ideas I wanted to get across with this story. I believe the destructive nature of these characters is a big concern, and by witnessing the full extent of their behaviour and the lack of awareness they have, an audience can understand how dangerous this emotional disconnect really is.

A: Would you consider the movie a feminist piece, or at least a film with a “message” of some kind? Are you okay with others making those assertions? What might that “message” be?

C: I wouldn’t consider the film a feminist piece, and I don’t suspect a lot of people will. However, I do consider it a critical view of conditioned masculinity in modern times. I think the film examines the conflicting and destructive ways that men cope with insecurities surrounding their own male identity. Beyond this examination, I think the film explores many other thematic ideas, such as: man’s inability to change, the removal of personal agency, and the using of others for pleasure or personal gain.
A well-made film should ask lots of questions and demand that the audience draw their own conclusions to those questions. I’m very happy if audiences see different things or ‘messages’ in my film. It means I’ve made you work, and good art should make you work a bit.

Shannon Coulter as Jasmine in Jackie Boy

A: In the film, Liz and Tony are the only ones who seem to have even a semi-healthy relationship, however this also breaks apart. Are the problems of these characters individual issues, or was this a commentary on the state of modern relationships in general?

C: I think the tragedy in Liz and Tony’s relationship comes from Tony’s self-defeatist attitude. He’s incredibly self-loathing and blames all his own problems on his surroundings, rather than attempting to change his environment or his attitude. Instead, he lives in that feeling of being ‘wronged’. In his mind, he did nothing to deserve what he got from life. It makes me sad, actually. Of all the male characters, Tony probably had the greatest chance of escaping his personal hell. He was so loved and supported by Liz, but didn’t know how to reciprocate that love. It truly is tragic.
I’m not sure I would consider this relationship a commentary on the state of modern relationships. It’s definitely a commentary on a particular type of relationship.

A: Jack undergoes a serious change in the film, at least from the audience perspective. However, he never makes an effort to make amends to Sasha or any of the other women he has presumably also hurt over the years. Does this mean that his general attitude toward women hasn’t really changed at all?

C: Interesting point you bring up here. If the film didn’t take the nasty turn it does in the last act, perhaps Jack would have shown more growth and decided to right his wrongs. Or, perhaps, he would not have had the courage to…that’s really for the audience to decided. Having said this, in the film I presented, I don’t think enough time passes for Jack to grow to the point that he would want to correct those wrongs.

A: Was any part of the film based on your own life or experiences?

C: Not exactly. I mean, I knew people with similar attitudes and patterns of behaviours, but not to the same extent or to the level of meanness portrayed in my film. Also, while writing the film, I was close to the age of these characters so I was living in a similar landscape, or in a ‘hookup culture’ if you’d prefer to call it that. I think a lot of the film came from my interest in exploring masculinity or the challenges with understanding your own masculinity.

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A Conversation with Frank Horvat at Izzy Gallery

If you are a photographer with many years of work under your belt, you often can accredit your success to a specific genre or a type of photography. Photographers such as Frank Horvat have exceeded these expectations and brought forth a degree of experience and talent that anyone in the industry can aspire to. Frank has worked as a photographer for over 70 years and has photographed a variety of subjects, landscapes, and objects. He began his career when he was fifteen when he swapped his stamp collection for a 35mm Retinamat camera. Through the years, Frank has had a variety of exhibitions. In the 1960s Frank travelled between Paris, London, and New York, and worked for publications such as Vogue, Glamour, and Harper’s Bazaar.

Through his career, Frank experienced the ever-changing landscape of photography and reflected them in his work, switching from film to digital imaging. In 2010, Frank created HORVATLAND, an iPad application dedicated to his works.

‘Please Don’t Smile’ at Izzy Gallery; photo courtesy of Izzy Gallery

Most recently, Frank has brought his exhibition, ‘Please Don’t Smile’ to Izzy Gallery in Toronto. The exhibit is an amalgamation of his favourite photos from his 30-year span as a fashion photographer. Izzy Gallery represents a variety of established photographers, and through Izzy’s close collaboration with the artists, he is able to display the best of their works by hand selecting from the artists’ archives. Izzy has worked closely with Frank on bringing ‘Please Don’t Smile’ to Toronto, and it is because of their relationship that Frank has attended one of his first gallery openings in North America in the past 14 years.

Izzy, with you I understood what it was like for Picasso and Matisse and Braque to have the art dealers they had: people who cared as much about the work as they cared about the money, to the point that they often kept the best for themselves. All my life I was hoping to find that dealer, and now I found you.” – Frank Horvat

We had the opportunity to sit down with Frank and discuss the exhibit, his career, and the importance of “tiny miracles” within his work.

Kimberley Drapack: What does the title, ‘Please Don’t Smile’ mean to you in regards to the exhibit?

Frank Horvat: I like it when something means more than one thing at a time. It means two or three things, and people get a bit lost. “Please Don’t Smile” is one thing I told the models when I photographed them, not because I didn’t want them to look happy, because I didn’t want a phony happiness of smiling for the photograph. If someone smiles because he or she is really happy, that’s fine, but if you smile just because you produce a smile for the photograph, I don’t like it.

When you say, “Please Don’t Smile,” you suggest that it is something to smile about. So, there’s this suggestion, and it works in several ways.

K: You’ve been working as a photographer for over 70 years. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?

FH: No, I became a fashion photographer by accident. I was a fashion photographer for about 30 years, and now it’s been more than 30 years and I haven’t taken a single fashion photograph. I don’t really wish to be labelled as a fashion photographer.

In spite of what is true, my fashion photographs are the part of my work which sells a lot. Many people like and use them and put them on their walls. So yes, I live off that reputation of being a fashion photographer, but I often like to insist and underline that I am not really a fashion photographer. I’m interested in other areas of photography, and other areas of life. It’s not my main thing.

This being said, I am very happy with this exhibition here with the fashion photographs, [Please Don’t Smile] because they are consistent and well exhibited, and I like the idea of my work being shown in Canada. So, I am very happy. I have no criticism at all.

I think the main reason I became a fashion photographer was because I was interested in photographing good looking girls and I loved directing them. On the other hand, my idea about photography has always been this: a good photograph is a photograph that cannot be redone. You get it once, and you never get it again. A good photograph is a kind of miracle.

Which is very much the opposite of fashion photography. In fashion photography, you have a situation: you choose a model, you choose a dress, you choose a location, and you go there and you take not one, but three or twenty rows of photos to get it exactly right. There is something where you say, you’ve done it, but it can be done again. It’s prepared and directed.

I didn’t want that kind of fashion photography. I always found a way of creating a situation where things happened that could not happen again.

“1951, Firenze, First Fashion Picture” By Frank Horvat ;photo courtesy of Izzy Gallery

(Frank refers to a photograph on the wall where a model stands next to a horse) This was my first fashion photograph when I was less than 20 years old. I didn’t know how to direct a model. She did very well, but the dress wasn’t particularly good and the composition was ok, but not more than ok. But that horse, the movement, and the profile with the silhouette against the sky — that will never happen again. Which I didn’t direct. The reason why I like that photograph is because something happened that I couldn’t get again.

I like to say that it was a tiny miracle. These kinds of miracles became more and more difficult. As I was getting more clever, things started to become more preconceived and things didn’t just happen by accident. In a way, the further I got, the more clever I became, the more difficult it became.

The conclusion, is that I in fact, didn’t take many good fashion photographs. There may have been 30, maybe 40 but certainly not 60, because those miracles didn’t happen as often.

Izzy made this exhibition with my fashion photographs but if he wanted to make a secondary exhibition with other fashion photographs, I wouldn’t have any to give him… not any that I really liked. They are really special in that sense and it’s through that logic that I care for my fashion photography.

K: How would you describe ‘Please Don’t Smile’?

FH: For a time, I was almost ashamed of being a fashion photographer. I thought it was something futile, to the point that there were a lot of photographs that I destroyed. Now that I see them together, I am bit reconciled with them, because I do realize that, in the case of these photographs, each one is a little bit of a miracle. I am thankful for these miracles.

“1958 Paris, For Elle with Michel Horvat” by Frank Horvat; photo courtesy of Izzy Gallery

To give you an example, look at this photograph, with the feather. (Frank points to a photograph where a small boy is holding a feather that covers a models face) When I started this sitting, I didn’t have any idea that I would do this photograph. The model was wearing a dress that I didn’t think was very interesting, she wasn’t particularly beautiful, and maybe I wasn’t particularly in the mood. I was trying to find something that would make the situation interesting. My son was around and I told him not to come close to the model, and that he could maybe play with his feather. The photograph was made because of a lucky moment when he had the feather just in front of her face, so that you didn’t see her face very clearly, but you saw it just enough. One second, not something that I set up, or that I could have set up, but something that just happened, and I caught. This was, a little miracle.

K: Do you remember your earlier years of photography?

FH: That’s the advantage of photography that helps you to remember. There were a lot of things that happened in my life, different points, which I have completely forgotten. When they’re photographed, and if I’ve handled them, printed it, or sold it or published it, I of course remember them.

K: I notice that the entire exhibit is in black and white.

FH: They were in black and white, because at that time, film was in black in white, and magazines published photographs in black and white.

Later, colour came, and I used colour. There was no preference.

K: On that note, it wasn’t until the ‘90s until you started working with digital imaging. Was it a big transition?

FH: I’m all for digital imaging, but it wasn’t so much the digital that changed, but Photoshop that changed. Even before, people used to manipulate images, but with digital, it became easier and you had more control. At the same time, it became more necessary with colour. With colour, there were more things that could be disturbing. If you’re on a street in New York, and there is a yellow cab, and you didn’t need the colour yellow, you could weaken the brightness. Manipulating photographs became a necessity.

K: Did you find that was a big aspect of your fashion photography in general?

FH: It was a big aspect. The interesting thing is it was the kind of opposite of my research of “the happy accident.” On one hand, I was waiting for the happy accident, and on the other hand I was trying to get rid of the unhappy accidents. To make a selection between what I considered a happy accident to what I considered a not-so happy accident.

K: The colour distortion is then to focus on certain aspects of a photo?

FH: I would say that every photograph is a choice among millions of possibilities. When there is so much that happens around you and you decide to frame one part of it, and take a shot of one moment among others, so you always choose. If I photograph in the street of Toronto, I pick my angle, my frame and my moment, out of a million more angles, frames and moments that I don’t pick. It’s always choosing.

K: If you’re not forced to have an emotion, it can create a more range of emotion, or natural state.

FH: It’s certain that the conventional smile is not something that you are pleased about. If the person has a conventional smile for you, you don’t really appreciate it. If I know it’s a conventional smile, it doesn’t mean anything to me.

K: You had not only a great success within your fashion photography, but your work expands to multiple genres, perspectives, and subjects. Was this something that was important to you within your work, or did it happen naturally?

FH: I think if I can see or show something that is meaningful to other people, it’s satisfying. If what I see or show, is just a repeat of something that has been said or shown many times, its less satisfying. To give an example, at one point, I made an exhibition about trees. There was something a little different about the way I showed them, and someone said to me, “after seeing your photographs, I look at trees in a different way.” That was positive. I thought it was worth doing.

With everything I photograph, I try to find a way of doing it as it hasn’t been shown before. If I take your portrait, I’ll probably take it in a way that you will think you look ugly in the portrait. You would mean it, because you don’t look the way you like to look when you look at yourself in the mirror. It may happen, that three or thirty years from now, you look at this photograph I took of you and you think that after all, you didn’t look so bad. That would make me happy.

We all have a way of looking at yourselves in a mirror and criticizing what we think is not perfect, or what we have a complex about. The woman I love said to me the other day, “I really have a big nose, you shouldn’t show my nose.” I said to her, “your nose is exactly what is interesting about you, and maybe one day you will realize it if I show it, because I love it and think it’s beautiful.” So that’s for me a good reason to take a photograph.

K: You find the beauty in people that they don’t necessarily see in themselves.

FH: Not only people, but you can find beauty anywhere that people didn’t see.

K: How do you choose the subjects of your fashion photography?

FH: When I was doing fashion photography, models used to telephone and come to an appointment and show me their book. If I liked their voice, I said yes, come. I thought that if I liked their voice, I thought there must be something beautiful about them that I could show.

K: And for your portraits?

FH: For me, if I photograph a face in the street of a person that I don’t know, I wouldn’t call it a portrait. It’s a close-up of the face. I call it a portrait when I have a definite idea about a person, and I try to show this at the end of the photograph.

If I photograph you, I wouldn’t call it a portrait, because I don’t know you. If I knew something about you, even a small thing, something I can find in a small conversation, or something you’ve told me once, it would mean that I have some idea about you and if I photograph, I will try to show my preconceived idea about you. To me, that is a portrait.

K: In the ‘80s, when you were in New York, you released your series, ‘New York, Up and Down.’ What was that process like?

FH: That was a product of New York. It could have just been a patch of dirt on the pavement. For some reason, I associated that exhibit with what I found to be important about New York. It could be anything – not just the beautiful landscape, but the setting.

It was mainly a feeling in New York where everything is really dense, a lot of things become really close together. Very often, they mix quite well.

I came to New York for a few weeks and it made the exhibit into an emotion. If I had stayed there all the time, it probably would have been less of an emotion.

K: Do you have a different processes when photographing a model as opposed taking a personal portrait of a family member or friend?

FH: The thing with photography is that it’s made out of two very opposed elements and sources. On one hand, you have your own imagination of what you think about the person or situation, and which you would like to express. For instance, there is a young child which is born to my wife, which is my child and I see them for the first time. I have all sort of expectations and imaginations before I photograph that child. On the other hand, the actual face of the child says something that has nothing to do with my expectation and brings something which I didn’t expect and I didn’t even want to show.

When I think of photographing my grandchild as a newborn, I thought he looked like a little old man. So, it brings something that wasn’t what I wanted to show and comes into the photograph. I then look at the screen, and say, “this maybe how he will look 50 years from now.” There’s what I want to show, and what people, things, or situations will show about themselves. What’s so fascinating about a photograph is that the two come together.

In the photograph with the girl with the horse, there was a girl who was there to show her dress, and was paid for it. There was the horse, who was there for his own reasons, and brought another message. It’s this meeting of two things, which is interesting.

Don’t forget to check out Frank Horvat’s exhibit at Izzy Gallery, located at 1255 Bay Street. You can see more of Horvat’s works on his personal website, HORVATLAND. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Alice Maclean

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

There’s a poetic quality of capturing fleeting moments in Alice Maclean’s watercolors. A quality neither too subtle nor outlandish that resembles in sentiment Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro; it’s as though Alice not only sees the faces in the crowd but understands what it is about them that needs conveying.

Alice was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and studied biology at Dalhousie University before she ventured into fine arts. She’s studied and lived in Paris and Scotland and now lives in Toronto. The mild manners of the Atlantic’s small town and the confidence of metropolitan life she’s come to know are found in her soft spoken yet assured answers. I recently had a chance to meet with Alice at her studio and talk about her latest series, Impermanenceand her career.

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

Hoon: You studied science at Dalhousie before studying fine art. How did you come to make that decision? 

A: It happened in an unplanned way. I was finishing my undergrad in biology and found that I was not enjoying my time at Dalhousie, so I kept thinking, How can I make this last year better and what would I really like to do? There was this quiet voice inside that just said I’d really like to take a drawing class. The class didn’t even count as an elective. The teacher was very supportive and she continuously urged me to go to art school full time. For a long time I didn’t agree with her because I was worried about money and was fatigued with undergrad. But what ended up happening was, she set up a meeting with the chairman and he gave me entrance to the school based just on my portfolio.

So I went into art school with the intention of doing just one year and was thinking about scientific illustration where I can use my science background. But once I started to learn more about painting, I felt that I connected more to an impressionistic style and decided to do four years at NSCAD.

H: Did you also paint or draw as a child? 

A: I don’t remember taking many art classes in high school or junior high — there really wasn’t much support for that. But I did draw as a child and my mom she still has framed drawings of mine from early on. She herself is very creative so I grew up always doing something creative, like drawing on walls, etc.

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

H: Does your understanding of science inform your work today?

A: I think it does. I was thinking back to what it was like when I was studying biology and all the lab works involve observing and drawing; some of my favorite classes were concerned with ecology, which is about looking specifically at animals and plants. At those moments, you’re really looking closely at, investigating something. I think in my art that kind of observational and investigational approach is applied to people.

H: Tell us a little bit about your creative process. 

A: It’s changed recently. In the summer time, while I was doing a two-week residency on Toronto Island,  I decided to focus just on watercolor mostly because it dries quickly and is more accessible for projects that need to be done more quickly. It changed my process a lot. I started to document people I met on the island and drawing from that: I’d go around and be around the community and take a lot of pictures of people I knew and people I didn’t know. Then I’d go over the photos. It’s hard to say but there is some connection I feel when I think that someone is showing a kind of unmasked version of themselves; you can catch people being a bit vulnerable, or showing the reality of their emotional state at the time. I look for those candid moments where I think I get a reaction and think, There’s something more there. So I’m not interested in documenting sports or yoga poses — I’m more interested in people when they are not aware.

It was important that when I ask for permission I’d make clear that I wasn’t about their identities. There are sometimes clues — in later ones you can tell the subjects’ genders and whatnot but some of the very first ones were really abstract. It was about posture and capturing the moment than anyone’s identity.

H: Would you say that there’s a thematic continuity between them? 

A: At the time, I was reading a lot about archetypes and shadows; aspects of a person’s persona that they don’t want revealed. That was really what sparked all of the works. That’s why I don’t really want to document people’s identity so much because archetypes are shared mythologies that we all can take on and inhabit ourselves. It’s more about shared experiences. I see something in someone else that invokes in me a kind of vulnerable, familiar human experience.

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

H: Tell us a bit about your latest series, Impermanence

A: Impermance is a bit of a departure. I began to think less about the archetypal aspects of ourselves and more about impermanence as an idea, the constant flux and change found in nature. Emotions and physical bodies are constantly changing and it inspired me to look at things differently. I also just started to think about how water color itself is in constant flux and I allowed it to have a lot of say in the final pieces. The materiality of watercolor — the water and pigment mixing on paper and changing through evaporation — fit just so perfectly with the concept of impermanence.

H: What was the transition from oil to watercolor like?

A: There are some links but they are very much different. I’m still informed by all the time I spent with oil, mainly in that I will block in the image, use monochromatic first layer. and work on top of it with more color. But what I get to do with watercolor is, I get to be a bit looser and more spontaneous. With oil, I felt that I was in control of it all, but with watercolor, I get to have more of a conversation with or an exploration of the material.

H: Is there a reason for choosing numbers over descriptive titles for your pieces in Impemanence?

A: It seemed more practical. Previously I would name the paintings after the person or with a description of the person, like say, ‘the girl in the blue dress.’ But with Impermanence, it was less about the individual and his or her individuality and so the numbering made more sense in that they are all titled Impermannce. It seems to fit all of them.

H: Series as a whole rather than as individual pieces.

A: Yeah, I think so.

H: Do you paint everyday?

A: I would like to be painting everyday but it’s not something I can always manage. I can’t force it and there are other responsibilities as well. When I was doing the residency I was painting everyday.

H: How long does it take you to finish a piece? 

A: I really don’t know because I’m always working on a number of them at the same time. There have been paintings that came about in a day and they are special for that. They were clear from the start and just happened. I would say that most of the time, I work in layers, so I go back at least a few times until I feel that it’s become completed. It’s a funny thing to know when something’s done.

H: You are originally from Nova Scotia and you now live in Toronto, and you’ve studied abroad in Paris and Scotland.

A: I moved to Paris to study for a semester and that was mostly to experience a lot of visual works in the flesh. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I didn’t have that many opportunities to see a lot of paintings in person. So in Paris, I spent a lot of time going to museums and looking at art. I also walked all over the city. That’s where the watercolor work all came from. Looking through all of the photos I took in Paris I started thinking about how bizarre it was to have all these strangers in my pictures. The same goes for Scotland. They’d often be in the background of something I was actually trying to take a photo of. When I travel, it puts me in a very observational space. I’m connected to who I am in a different way, away from my comfort zone. You become more observational and it visually informs my paintings.

H: Are there any subjects or ideas you’d like to explore in the future? 

A: I’m not so sure. At the moment, I want to do a project based on a rural setting and an urban setting and to compare them. But I’m not exactly sure what this will look like. I’ve also been thinking about compositions that involve more than one figure and compositions of people from different places — they wouldn’t have shared a moment in reality but become a composition that can perhaps tell a narrative. And I want to explore the materiality of watercolor and work on it on different types of papers.

Alice Maclean’s latest series, Impermanence, was on view at Souvenir on Dundas West. She was recently featured in Toronto’s Artist Project. Impermanence and other works by Alice are on view on her website here and on her Instagram page here. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Soheil Parsa: Director, Humanitarian, and Visionary

The Iranian-born Canadian director Soheil Parsa is taking over Buddies in Bad Times Theatre with his remount of Blood Weddings. The play, written by Garcia Lorca, was initially produced by Parsa in 2015 and was a great success. It won six Dora Mavor Moore Awards, two Toronto Theatre Critics Association Awards, and earned a place on NOW Magazine’s Top Ten List for the year.

Blood Weddings returns to the stage from March 4th to the 19th with the original cast and crew. Parsa has gone deeper into the concepts behind the play after six weeks of intensive training with the cast. He hopes to bring light to the importance of the play in our current world as it retains a striking cultural, political, and social relevance to our current age.

Blood Weddings tells a story of two rival families who have more in common than it may appear on the surface. Parsa reminds us that while we may have our differences, we are fundamentally the same and should hold onto that hope for humanity.

Kimberley Drapack: Tell us a little bit about the play. What made you decide to put on this specific piece?

Soheil Parsa: I was fascinated by Lorca and his plays since I was in Iran. I was a theatre student back home. I knew Lorca, I knew his poetry. I always wanted to do this piece. It was very close to my philosophy and it was very close to my heart.

The story itself was inspired by a newspaper story found by Lorca. It tells a story of a conflict between two families, but gets to its peak when a girl runs away with her ex-lover, the son of the enemy, on her wedding night. Thematically, I think the story is about the tragic ending of the unfulfilled love that has been caused by the need to preserve honour and appearance in society. That’s a major theme, as well as the conflict between individuals — their desires for freedom amidst societal law and conventions.

Lorca was a homosexual man and the experience of these social conventions and limitations of being a gay man in a male-dominated society, doesn’t really make sense. For him, society is kind of a precious instrument that locks away the primal response of human beings.

The play has other layers and themes that are really interesting. One of them is the status of women in a male-dominated society. Other themes include love, death, the concept of “being real,” and fate. There are many layers in this piece and that’s why I think it’s a fascinating play.

K: How was casting?

S: I cast the show 2 years ago and it was very challenging to cast it because of the non-naturalistic, non-realistic style of the play. Once I did, in a six-week journey I established a common vocabulary within myself and the cast so we are all on the same page. It’s very exciting. It took us a long time.

K: It must have been a lot of hard work.

S: It’s not a common scenario or style in Canadian theatre, that’s why it was a challenge. The cast is extremely talented, and it was a mutual trust so everything is good.

K: Your first run of Blood Weddings in 2015 did incredibly well. What made you decide to bring it back for a second run?

S: It was a kind of necessity after two years. I think that the themes and the story are more relevant and more immediate after two years, considering what is happening around the world. One of the themes of that play that some people might not notice is an overall tribal attitude: the lack of forgiveness, and lack of empathy or compassion in humanity. Things get tribal and people get so locked in their own culture or their own vision and they cannot see anything else. For me, that’s kind of the source of violence in the play.

Given the success of the play two years ago, we of course wanted people to see it who haven’t yet. It was really important for me to remount this piece in this time, in this situation, with these things happening around the world.

K: The play, although written in 1932, holds certain themes that are applicable to our current world. Why do you think this is?

S: That’s an important question because of certain political situations in the world and the division between us and the other. I think that’s one of the major themes of the play. It’s about the other family that never, ever forgets. The hostility that happened in the past, that lack of forgiveness. This kind of tribal attitude, the importance for the characters of this play to preserve honour and social appearance. I think we see that in many countries around the world right now. National religious identities are often singular. I call it a “choice-less identity.” They cannot get rid of it or open up and see humanity as a whole. We are all caught in our personal, national, and religious identities. Despite all of our differences, I think that it’s important to realize that we have a lot in common. I think for this reason the play at the source doesn’t look so political, but it is. It’s talking about our society, our attitude as individuals, and how we want to please others.

K: It’s interesting — now that it’s your second run, and that you’ve had the time, you can find those layers within the play.

S: Yes, to go deeper to the essence of the play, to give us this opportunity in the second run to go deeper within the characters and the whole concept of the play. It’s been really very useful. It’s not just a remount, it’s beyond that for me. It’s the ability to go deeper in every level, to the essence of the play.

K: What challenges did you face in bringing this script off the page?

S: One of the main challenges for me was communicating and conveying the unique and the unusual style of this play with my cast. The dominant style of theatre in North America is naturalism and realism. This naturalistic approach to acting wouldn’t be appropriate for this play. It’s a highly visceral, poetic, and visual drama. That’s the way that I look at this piece. The play incorporates songs, poetry, music — its action is set in this symbolic and stylized universe. The universe moves between the real and unreal worlds constantly, back and forth. With the naturalistic approach to theatre, it would be very difficult to convey this universe and go deep down and create this kind of theatre. That was a challenge.

I was blessed with having a very strong and talented cast who trusted me and collaborated with me over those six weeks, as I’ve said, in an incredible journey to discover the style of the play and create a powerful production. I appreciate the collaboration of the entire creative team, cast and crew, to help me to get this play off the page.

K: That must have been an incredible journey to share with so many people considering the size of the cast. 

S: Yes, and diverse. We have actors from at least seven different nationalities and backgrounds on the stage. Again, it’s going beyond naturalism and realism. That really helped me to diversify my cast because I accentuated the fact that it did not take place in any specific culture or any specific country. We accentuated the timelessness and placelessness of the play. For example, in the first scene, the mother and son are from two different cultures. The mother is from Columbian heritage and the son is from an Asian heritage. After thirty seconds, it really doesn’t matter anymore.

I stripped down the scenic elements: the props and costumes from it’s original Spanish culture. Although the Spanish culture is there, (I’m not saying its totally gone) but it’s not really happening in Spain. The play can happen in any country around the world, or in any culture around the world. It’s so beautiful on the stage, because you can kind of see the human race.

K: Does your production bring anything new to the story?

S: I think through the timelessness and placelessness of the play, I made the story a human story. Audiences from all cultures and ethnic backgrounds can enjoy it and connect to it.

I haven’t really challenged the concept of the story, or the themes of Lorca, but as a storyteller and as a theatre director, I opened it up for people to see it from a different angle than looking at just a Spanish play. It’s one of the most important achievements as a director, that’s what I’ve brought to the story: the universality, even though I’m not a big fan of that terminology. This production goes beyond all cultural and geographical barriers.

K: How did you get into theatre? What about it inspires you?

S: I started theatre back home in Iran at Tehran University during the Islamic Revolution. At this time, I was in my fourth year of theatre school and I was an actor by training. After the Revolution, I was expelled from theatre school because of my non-Islamic background, which is the Baha’i faith. I stayed for another two years, but it was impossible for me continue because of the whole situation. I was in fear of being arrested everyday.

When I was very young, I was attracted to theatre and, like other theatre practitioners around the world, I first wanted to be an actor. When I came to Canada I realized a limitation that I had due to my language and accent. I wouldn’t be able to pursue acting. I gravitated towards directing and I’m really happy with that decision.

What inspires me most about theatre is that it’s direct, human connection with the audience. As an artist and human being, I personally always strive for this immediate, live and direct connection with other human beings.

Another thing that fascinates me about theatre is about here and now. It’s about this very moment they’ve created and it’s about that shared experience. You really see this at live concerts. Film doesn’t have this quality. I’m not saying it’s inferior to theatre, but there is a passionate and powerful characteristic to be live, and be created onstage to connect with its spectators.

K: Why is theatre an important medium for storytelling?

S: Through the live and direct connection. It’s really there, and it’s happening live. The power of live storytelling is really special. It goes back to the millions of years of storytelling and that live connection between people and between families. It’s really unique and that’s why it makes theatre one of the most important forms of storytelling.

K: You established the Modern Times Stage Company in 1989. What was it like to start your own theatre company? 

S: It was a different time and the situation was really different in those days. The company was founded in 1989 by myself and Peter Farbridge, an actor of British heritage. In the early nineties, there weren’t any theatre companies that were led by artists from diverse cultural backgrounds. In those days, the appearance of a theatre actor from Iran wasn’t very common. I’d say I was perhaps one of the first Middle Eastern students who studied theatre at York University in 1985. It was a strange phenomenon. I remember some disheartening comments from some members of the community, in terms of my potential as an immigrant to become a successful member of the Canadian theatre community. Eventually, I trusted myself, and that was the reason I fled my country to come to Canada and pursue my dream in theatre.

Perhaps the central motivation for forming the company came from the recognition that there would be little or less opportunity for me to be hired as a director by Torontonian theatres. That’s why I decided to create the company and create my own work with Peter Farbridge. We have been working together for thirty years. It is a very interesting combination: a Canadian of Iranian heritage, and Peter, a Canadian of British heritage. It was amazing when we got together. We never talked about our differences — it wasn’t an issue at all because the work was amazing. We talked about Brecht, we talked about Lorca. We’ve now created forty productions and gained national recognition.

K: You describe the company as addressing “themes of loneliness, the mystery of existence, the search for happiness and truth, and the conflict between Fate and Will.” How does this apply to Blood Weddings?

S: I think these themes certainly exist and are prominent in this play. It’s really close to the mandate and philosophy of the company, and to my own philosophy. Overall, Lorca’s characters are archetypal beings. They’re besieged by the forces that are greater than themselves: the unknown forces that they can neither control nor comprehend. These characters perhaps present fate and destiny. They are leading these actors as they are the masters of these characters. The dark and unknown forces that exist in this universe also exist in Shakespeare. They exist in Macbeth for example with the witches. Who are they? It’s really hard to define them.

Another thing is the concept of loneliness. Lorca’s characters, particularly the women, are fascinating. They are lonely, solitary, isolated figures, yet very strong. You feel in Lorca’s characters the things you cannot understand or comprehend. It’s beyond their control.

K: How can people become involved with the Modern Times Stage company? 

S: We have a strong online presence where we try to reach out to people to communicate what we create. The intention behind what we do is not through the identity of politics. As artists, we want to create good theatre and we want to communicate and establish vocabulary between ourselves and audiences. As a theatre company we receive government funding, but it’s not always enough. We try to develop members for the company and communicate with them, to get their support and to get sponsors. In terms of a community or artistic involvement in Mainstage, we have workshops. In April, we have a three-day symposium about the concept of diversity as a practice. We have classes, and we want to involve younger generations to pass on our experiences.

Don’t forget to see Blood Weddings, starring Beatriz Pizano, Bahareh Yaraghi, Carla Melo, Carlos Gonzales-Vio, and more at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre from March 4th to the 19th. To read more about Soheil Parsa and the Modern Times Stage Company, you can find them at http://moderntimesstage.com/ or through their Facebook page

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A Conversation with Andi: Singer, Songwriter and Producer

In the world of digital communication and social media, making your way as a solo musician is both easier and harder than it’s ever been. Easier because of the access to resources and open platforms, for putting out your content, and harder because of stiff competition and an overflow of options available to the public. Like most artistic professions, it takes talent and dedication.

Toronto-based singer-songwriter Andi definitely has the talent, and is now putting in the time and dedication. Having already released her debut EP SKETCHES last January, Andi is already writing and producing a second album while performing all over the city with her band.

We spent an afternoon with the 21-year-old artist at the Botanical Gardens to talk songwriting, management, and why criticism is a good thing.

Natasha Grodzinski: When did you make the decision to pursue music as a solo artist?

Andi: I’ve always been in the arts. I didn’t start in music, but I tried every facet to see which one served me best, which one was the best to express myself with. I tried acting, filmmaking and I enjoyed all of them, but music stuck. It was what I was passionate about, the one where I thought, ‘I could do this every day of my life.’ As soon as music was what I decided to do, which I think was around high school, I knew I wanted to be a solo artist. I wanted to write my own stuff and decide the direction of my art. I didn’t want to make any compromises that I didn’t have to. I wanted to work with others, but I wanted to be in control of my work.

NG: Did you study music at all, or did you pick it up naturally?

A: I took piano when I was a little kid for a long time and I’ve always sung, I love doing it. I didn’t do any professional training at all. In high school I had a great jazz program, in this little high school is Caledon called Humberview. They had a great jazz choral section and we performed at Disney World! It was really awesome. I tried out for Humber College and did a year of jazz training with a professional there, then left and started doing it for a living.

NG: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?

A: Yes. Yes I do. There’s been several things that I’ve worked on where there’s been a due date, and I’ve pushed it back. I won’t put something out unless it’s exactly what I envisioned. It’s very rare I’ll start a song or a video without a very specific idea of what the endgame is, and I will not stop until that’s fulfilled. I couldn’t put out something that was half done.

NG: So you’re writing all of your own music — are you producing it all as well?

A: I produced very heavily on my first album. I’m still producing heavily on this one, but more so in a partnership with my producer Paul Barton, who is also a member of my band. It essentially works that I’ll write the tune, I’ll write the chords, and bring that skeleton of the song to my producer. We’ll go back and forth, then I’ll bring in instrumentalists from my band. We’ll go in a patchwork way until everything is there.

NG: Have you found difficulty in working with a producer and a band? Or does it ease the process?

A: I’ve had difficulty with producers in the past because all of them were very clear that they wanted to create my sound for me, or they wanted to create my image for me, or I wasn’t dong right by my sound. Some said it was too alternative while others said it was too pop. That’s impossible to work with. The producer I’m with now, is an incredible musician and an credible producer, and is devoted to my vision for a song. He’ll make it happen. We work well together and have similar instincts, so it’s very easy.

NG: That’s a great partnership.

A: It really is, and it definitely is more of a partnership than a collaboration. He’s on every track.

NG: How did that partnership come about? Was it from working with the band?

A: I’d say the band came after the music. The music happens first, then the band comes in, and when I start writing I didn’t have a band. I met Paul early on when I was making my first album. We weren’t even playing it yet!

NG: Tell me about the experience of creating that first album.

A: Oh, it was amazing.  I just thought, ‘I need to make an album.’ I had just gotten out of school and just had this random fluke performance with David Foster. That propelled me out of school to making an album, which is really what I needed to do. I had all of these ideas and they needed to be out here so I can move on. You know, when you make music, I think it’s best if it’s here, if it’s live, you finish it, you put it out and that way, what you’ve made and the space you’ve made is relevant to the space people listen to. I don’t want to say it’s time-sensitive, but it almost feels that way.

NG: Because this record was made so much in a particular moment, was there a specific vibe or concept happening?

A: I think that album was very much an introduction, you know? I was just testing the grounds. That was my first try at producing myself — that whole album taught me how to make music, really. A lot of it was about personal situations. It was a very introverted record. Now that I have that know-how — how to produce and write — my next project is about looking outwards and talking about issues, not so much about personal relationships.

NG: It’s moving into a bigger sphere.

A: It’s more commentary, it’s more imaginative, it’s a bit more outwards.

NG: How would you describe your sound?

A: Alternative pop is the umbrella term, but it draws from a lot of different aspects, since I love different types of music. There’s influences from RnB, electronic, noise rock, and independent rock. It’s kind of whatever aspects of those genres lend to a specific song. If a certain song has an attitude lyrically of the RnB realm, then I’m going to pull from that aspect and tonality. If it needs something a bit heavier or something to represent angst or self-conflict in the lyrics, then I’ll bring in some noise rock inspiration.

NG: It’s interesting that the sound is based off of the words.

A: Or the general concept of the tune. It’s a package. I’m very concerned with things being fluid while having a sense and a purpose. It’s just how I write. I’m a songwriter for sure.

NG: Bring us into your songwriting process. Do you start with a big concept or do you start small?

A: Well, every song is pretty unique. I’m heavily inspired by visuals, so often, when I have a song, I’ll come up with a concept anytime I’m analyzing myself or what I think about something. I’ll think, ‘Oh, this is something I can write about. This is something that is important to me.’ When I start thinking about that, I immediately gather visuals that go with what I’m thinking of. Once I have the first verse and the chorus, I usually put together a board of visuals. I’ll either print them out or make them digitally. I’ll use that as a reference to keep writing and to create the atmosphere of the song. That’s often a direct link to how I make music videos.

NG: It’s interesting that you use such a visual process for something focusing on words and audio.

A: It’s all the same thing to me. I grew up in a gallery, my father is a visual artist. I did art for years and still do. I tattoo and illustrate to keep the wheels going for music. Laughs. Visual art has always been a big part of my life. When it comes to art, they’re inseparable for me.

NG: I was thinking something similar when I saw the video for Caffeine. It’s so beautiful visually that you get the sense some of the stills could be a painting.

A: Actually, I do have paintings and illustrations of the storyboard at home. When I made the video, I illustrated a full storyboard, which is great for videos because you can literally align your time to the musical beat. I can say, okay, four beats on this one shot, then let’s take a rest and go to a black shot for a second and then come in on three with the wide pan. You can use the language of musical theory to align the shots. That’s why I love how organized music video planning can be. In order to get the right tone for Caffeine and to really translate it to the videographers, I did illustrations, I made visions boards and I had the whole illustrated storyboard. I also used that as a guide to edit when I brought it back to the studio.

Andi’s storyboard for the Caffeine music video.

 

Another image for the Caffeine video by Andi.

NG: Do you think you’ll do that for every music video, having the concepts so clearly laid out?

A: It’s pretty much where every song comes from. Obviously not every one will be made into a video. It does help me write. Maybe that’s my ties to film — I love filmmaking and I love movies. half of my reason why I love art in the music realm is I get to make music videos.  As a lover of film and a lover of any kind of movie or TV aspect, I feel as though I have a similar palette in knowing what visuals and what colours go with certain music.

NG: It’s making the music atmospheric.

A: That’s what I’m hoping for! I’m concerned, not outwardly because I’m sure people will make their own opinions about my music and that’s really all I want, but for me, the important thing about my music is I’m making it for me. This is the only thing I really want to do in my life. Making this art makes me happy, and to make it the way I want, a true expression of my vision. I want to represent ideas, colours and feelings.

NG: That’s important, I think. It’s as though you need to do this because it’s the best way for you to express yourself.

A: I do. I need to do this. Part of me almost feels like it’s a little selfish because I do make music for myself, but I think you can only make art that isn’t inhibited if you are making it for yourself. If you’re making it for someone else, then other people’s expectations get in the way of your creative plans, your flow of art and recognizing how you look at things, whether it’s flawed, straight up or abstract. That’s your interpretation of visuals. I think Bjork is a really good example of this. She says she can’t talk about her music too much with people because she needs to focus in on what she wants. When other people come in, it’s almost like a radio is on. You can get confused. I find myself very easily influenced by other people’s expectations. What I need to do is focus on what I expect of me. When I do that, I come up with my best stuff.

NG: In the writing process, then, do you go to a very introspective place?

A: I do! My studio is out in Caledon, out in the country on a 20-acre property. I come to Toronto and do all of my work and then I leave to the country. I stay in my very clean room and have a very scheduled day. That helps me return with an energy and an expectation for what I have to do, so I can make art every day. It’s so hard. Anyone who does art knows the hardest thing is doing it, is getting up and actually doing it. Everyone procrastinates the hell out of it. You’ll go on and live your life until you have to make it. And then you make it.

NG: These songs are your babies, right? You write them and produce them…

A: They are my babies. I love them.

NG: Do you get nervous when you put them out to the public because they’re so personal and you put so much into them?

A: I think I only ever feel worried about the expectations of my family. Everyone has that — who puts out any art. You don’t really want to talk to your family about your darkest personal feelings. When you put that out there people could judge you, but I think you just need to be like, ‘Well, this is me.’ I stand by each track, I stand by the message and I feel confident. If I can do that and feel that way before anyone else hears it, then I’m okay.

A lot of my songs are about sexuality, they’re about women, they’re about being a woman — it’s stuff that sometimes people don’t want to talk about, or something people won’t always talk about legitimately. Talking about women’s sexuality is a whole spectrum of opinions from different people.

NG: Looking forward to your next album, what can you take away from your experience working on the first one?

A: Well, the good thing about the last album was I started it and didn’t know how to make music, and I finished it and had a pretty good idea. Laughs. This album, first of all, is just way easier. Writing each song isn’t a terrible struggle. Writing now comes much more naturally. I don’t have to focus so much on the basics. I can expand a bit more musically and lyrically.

I was proud of the last album. It was a good introduction and it was a good presentation of me in that time. The biggest thing I can take away from that is I want this album to be just as genuine. I’ve changed, it’s been a couple of years. Everyone changes, hopefully. I want to do another accurate representation of who I am. I want to be honest and vulnerable, and that’s hard. It’s hard to be vulnerable in music when you can rewrite it, to make yourself sound better.

NG: While you’re in the process of creating this next album, are you performing live?

A: Yeah, we’ve got a couple of shows coming up. We’ve got one March 30th at the Rivoli. Got another one April 27th at the Supermarket. And we’ll be performing all the way through the summer, right until this album comes out.

NG: Do you love performing live?

A: I do! It’s not the same feeling I get as when I’m writing. I love writing and producing, that’s my favourite. I am a recording artist first before I’m a performer, I think, but when you share this stuff is when it’s alive. For example, I hadn’t heard my last album for a long time, and I thought, this music needs to breathe. It needs to get out there. That’s when people can really hear it, when they see you perform it and see how much it means to you.

NG: You’re also an independent artist. Is that a important part of the process to you?

A: It’s so confusing nowadays, where your lines are on how you own your art. I’m independent, and purposefully so. I want to own my music for as long as I can. In a label you can still own your music, but it gets hard. Creatively, you have to compromise, so I’m going to do everything on my own [for as long as] I possibly can, before joining up. I think any independent artist should do that. In this time, in the digital age, it’s so easy to just do what you need to do as long as you work your ass off. All the resources are there.

Something people may not realize when you are an independent artist, especially a solo artist — when you don’t have a band co-owning your music — is it’s 70% non-music work. It’s managing and scheduling. You have to be the boss of it. If you want to get somewhere, you have to work hard. Every day.

I realize as a musician it’s hard to prove yourself again and again, because that’s what it is. Even with artists who are big, they have music, they put it out and you’re just waiting after that record is out for them to put out another record to prove that they still got it, or they’re still hip. You know, that can be really discouraging. And again, it’s one of those things you can write for. You could write to prove yourself. The best thing to do is just follow your own expectations. You should be confident and do that but also always stay humble. Know where you are. Don’t get Kanye about it. I mean, I love Kanye, but don’t get Kanye about it. You have to listen to other people. Constructive criticism is so important. It’s hard, but it’s awesome.

I am an artist who works on her own and I only collaborate so often, but I listen to the people I collaborate with. I take their opinions and I learn, I grow. Don’t be afraid to change, even if it’s your own stuff.

You can visit Andi’s website here and see her Instagram here.  

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