Q&A With Mani Eustis

Mani Eustis is a Toronto-based playwright and creator of Fancy Bits TheatreAccording to her website, she started the company “a year out of theatre school on the belief that there were too many tragic plays about women and comedies where the only female roles were the ‘not funny character’. The solution, start a company dispelling the myth of the humorless lady.” We sat down with her to talk about her latest play, Sorry I Can’t Come to Your Show”, which she wrote and directed and is set inside of her own kitchen!

Adina: Could you talk a bit about your writing process? How long did this take you to finish?

Mani: The writing process was very organic, if the play feels like stream of consciousness that’s because it was. I went into it being frustrated that I was not doing anything creative so I told myself — Okay Mani you need to finish a play, that’s it. Usually I go into a project having these big ideas of what I want to create but for this I just wrote a scene and then looked at it and tried to find patterns or themes and then let that inform the next scene. It was a really enjoyable way to write. It was also fast because I wasn’t constantly editing myself, or worrying about a rigid narrative or structure. In some ways, the show is still in its early stages. I am sure I could add to it or edit and improve it but I also think there is something to be said for just doing a project quick and dirty.

A: A lot of this play skewers playwrights who use rape for shock value. How do you think writers can balance telling stories with emotion without exploiting pain to get some cheap tears?

M: I think the first thing to do is to move away from the portrayal of rape and violence against women as leading to hysteria. Not that it is a not-valid way to react to trauma but there are so many ways that people deal with traumatic events, so many surprising and subtle ways that I feel the media and theatre rarely explores. I honestly think sometimes people google search “how does it feel after rape” click the first link and then base their characters’ experience on that. But really, it’s all subjective, some people might be really moved by stories of women enduring hardship. I just feel I know the story so well that I would prefer to see a play about a woman organizing her bookshelf over a woman getting thrown against it.

A: Which works/writers/directors did you use as inspiration, if any?

M: I watch a lot of comedy and TV. I also have been incredibly inspired by the Toronto based absurdist dance theatre company ROCK BOTTOM MOVEMENT.

Still from Sorry I Can’t Come to Your Show. Photo by Justine McCloskey

A: What, if anything, were you hoping for the audience to take with them after the show?

M: I would love for the audience to a) have thought it was funny and enjoyed their night; or b) are angry and didn’t get it (because everyone has a right to their opinion); and c) have different interpretations about the play itself gain insight into things that maybe even I missed.

A: The play makes great use of its kitchen setting. Did you always know it was going to be in your apartment?

M: As soon as my boyfriend and I moved into the apartment I knew I wanted to do a show in it. The high ceilings, hanging lights, and open space were just begging for it. So yes, I wrote the whole show with my kitchen in mind. However, once we started rehearsal I really discovered that the space had way more to offer then I realized, all the cupboards as the back drop lent themselves so well to adding an heir of strange mystery and randomness.

A: Were there any specific playwrights that inspired ‘Jeremy’, or is he just a composite of obnoxious male playwrights?

M: He was definitely a mix of people and ideas.  A lot of the play draws from my experience with theatre school feeling pressure to share intimate details of your life, feeling pressure to emote even if you can’t or don’t want to. I once had a class where we actually had to go around in a circle and say, ‘ I AM LOST’ one by one, moan it. My question is when does all this ‘feeling’ become one big circle jerk? Jeremy is an embodiment of the self-indulgent. An artist who literally masturbates onstage. And we hate him, and love him and are incredibly jealous of him. He is that pretentious guy who is so beautiful but a complete asshole and on top of it all will always be more popular and successful then you. He is the quintessential fuckboy (excuse my language).

A: What are the connections you made between writing and astral projection?

M: I think as a writer and an artist particularly a female artist. To a certain degree you are trying to see your art and yourself from an objective point of view, I want to see what other people see.  There is this constant other gaze and if only you could see what they could see. This is obviously impossible but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could for a second step outside yourself and look at what you created and really see it. Get rid of all the ego and insecurity. So, Astral Projection was a little bit of a metaphor for that. The playwright tries to leave her body so she can look down on herself and see herself clearly.

Still from Sorry I Can’t Come to Your Show. Photo by Justine McCloskey

A: What was the casting process like?

M: The casting process was great! I am so lucky to have found three women who are so talented and so perfect for their roles. The audition itself was probably more unique then a lot of auditions in that I had them do a comedic interpretive dance to “I’m Crying” By Roy Orbison (which was later a part of the play) And one of the main things I was looking for was people who wouldn’t take it to seriously who were able to be goofy. Because despite some serious themes the whole show is really a goofy show. I remember Marina Gomes who plays the playwright did a funny dance that involved a lot of slo-mo running. I also remember being a little intimidated by Marina Moreira and thinking- bam yep she’s perfect for the Artist.  As well Mallory Palmer doing by far the best old Hollywood voice I have ever heard so I wanted her to play Audrey. Also, she is very tall. This is something I tell her all the time that she is so tall! Short people appreciate tall people. So, long story short I am so happy with my cast. They are so talented and funny.

A: Are you working on anything now?

M: I always have a million ideas for things I want to do, start writing etc. But I am not actively working on anything besides this just yet. I will probably go through the dreaded grant application process soon though because I would really like to be able to pay my actors more then profit share and I haven’t yet been able to pay myself so I would like to maybe have enough money to pay my actors and me.  But whatever it is it will be a comedy in some sense of the word and only have women in it. I think the next show will probably have much more drag in it. I really like girls playing boys. I think its because as an actress I love playing male characters but after university that doesn’t really happen and its a shame because there are so many great male roles out there that could probably be better acted by a women.

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Catchin a cold at Toronto new surf shop

Aliya N Barnes in front of Elie Landesberg’s photo.
Photos by Sveta Soloveva 

Try on a juicy rash guard, flip through a surf magazine, grab a board of your dream and … go surfing!

Are the Great Lakes too cold for you? Don’t worry, Surf the Greats company got you covered. Their new surf shop and café at 276 Carlaw Avenue offers thick cold water wetsuits, surf booties, and mittens from Rip Curl. While the warmest gear keeps your body comfortable, the beach-inspired events and parties will take care of your mood. For example, until July 29th, Catchin A Cold photo exhibit showcases works from 16 artists who represent all five of the Great Lakes.

Hidden in the labyrinth of the building, the shop became one of many surfers’ favourite spots in Toronto even before it opened. Even while under construction, it hosted Toronto’s premiere of environmental movie Island Earth and welcomed adventure photographer Chris Burkard who was in to Toronto to present his surf documentary Under An Arctic Sky.

Now the shop is officially open and it offers everything surfers need for their soul and body, from surfboards, apparel, sun care, and printed matters to surf and yoga lessons, energizing drinks, and many exciting events like film screenings and live music concerts!

“The atmosphere is totally amazing,” said 20-year-old Aliya N. Barnes, who attended the grand opening party on June 29th. “It’s colourful and bright, but it still has a nice surf chill feeling. I feel like I wanna live here.”

Surf the Greats’ owner Antonio Lennert said that the physical shop is an extension of their online platform that brought many surf enthusiasts together through organizing beach cleanups and free yoga classes and offering surf equipment and lessons for the last three years.

“We started online as a media outlet to connect all different communities of surfers over the Great Lakes using hashtag ‘surf the greats’,” he said. “I feel like we’ve earned the community’s trust by giving, and now the community is giving back to us. That’s why now we have a home, and there’s so many people here and so much positivity. It just feels very special.”

Surf the Greats’ sign over the bar table is shimmers in its juicy colours, shifts from pink to blue and from blue to green. Dj Great Lake Shark (Ellie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe with folktronica tracks until the band Gold Complex takes over with their live acoustic.

Gold Complex performs at the surf shop on June 29

Guests sample RISE Kombucha, order beer from Sweetgrass Brewing Co., and explore newly arrived surfboards and apparel. There are a couple of major brands like Vans Canada and Rip Curl, but Surf the Greats tries to stay local as much as possible and carries products from Montreal, Tofino, BC, and Toronto, along with their own brand.

Walking through the rows of beach bags and rash guards, the visitors occasionally stop and stare at the photos of Catchin A Cold exhibit. The sixteen photographs vary from black and white to colourful, and show surfers riding or waiting for waves, walking to and staring at the water. “What you see on the walls is a mix of professional photographers and people who go to beach with their phones,” said Lennert. “We tried to make sure that we represented all the Great Lakes, amateur and professional photographers, male and female photographers.” Surf the Greats announced the photo competition in the winter and, working with Vans Canada, selected the winning works out of 700 submissions.

Dj Great Lake Shark (Elie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe at Surf the Greats’ grand opening party
“I took this photo in Scarborough, Ontario, in a very-very stormy day, and there was one surfer out in very turbulent water,” Elie Landesberg told Novella about his black and white photo. “Because the sky was so grey and the birds were blowing around the sky, I thought it was a metaphor for my life and for surfing to see somebody sitting insulated, so calm among so much turbulence and chaos.”
Lennert said Surf the Greats will host a new event every week. Many of them are free or by donation. Check out a screening of a the surf movie GIVEN on July 20, a wave forecasting workshop on July 29th, and beach yoga every Sunday morning.
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What Not to Miss at This Year’s Toronto Fringe Festival

Toronto’s Fringe Festival enters it’s 39th year with an onslaught of art, music, and theatre within its newly established Fringe Club. Due to the closure of a beloved Toronto landmark, Honest Ed’s, the festival has relocated to Scadding Court at Bathurst and Dundas. This change welcomes a fresh lineup of free, (yes, I said the “f word”) performances to attend with your friends, family, mistress, or seventh-grade gym teacher. Seriously, there is something here for everyone.

Fringe Executive Director Kelly Straughan describes the Scadding Court as the new home and heart of the Fringe Festival. Straughan states that the space “allows for more free programming including the inaugural Fringe Music Series on the Outdoor Stage. These free, walk-up experiences are often the gateway for new audiences to discover the festival, which itself is a gateway to discovering the love of live performance. With the international celebration of the 70th anniversary of Fringe Festivals worldwide added into the schedule, it is going to be an exciting festival.”

The festival is on from July 5th until the 16th, so if you have not had a chance to check things out for yourself,  do not fret – you still have the chance. From the Fringe’s Outdoor Stage, to the Fringe After Dark in the Fringe Tent, there is lots to see. Alternatively, if you feel like kicking back and taking it easy, you can enjoy the festival’s beer garden and patio. Now if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

We at Novella love to make things smooth as a baby’s bottom for our readers, and took some time to put together a list of acts that you don’t want to miss out on during this years Fringe.

ABOUT TIME by the Templeton Philharmonic 

Hitting the stage at the Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace, this lovely duo, “will take you on a darkly comedic odyssey through the ages.” The duo features writers and performers, Gwynne Phillips and Brianna Templeton, as they poke fun at “humanity’s foibles throughout history.” Phillips and Templeton are no strangers to the spotlight, winning “Best Duo” at the Los Angeles Comedy Festival and “Producers Pick” at the Toronto Sketchfest. If they aren’t already busy enough, these talented ladies also have a webseries called “Womanish” on CBC Punchline and are guest writers on CBC’s The Irrelevant Show.

TEN CREATIVE WAYS TO DISPOSE OF YOUR CREMAINS by Rose Napoli

He was a boy. She was a girl. They meet. “Ten Creative Ways to Dispose of your Cremains” is a “millennial love letter to the misfits of the Peter Pan Generation.” Starring Jakob Ehman and Rose Napoli, the play is for outcasts everywhere and pulls at our heart strings. Rose Napoli is no stranger to the Toronto theatre circuit. Napoli’s first play, Oregano, premiered at the Storefront Theatre last year to sold out houses and critical acclaim.

LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS by Sam Steiner  

Any avid Twitter user knows the golden rule: 140 characters or less. In “Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons”, cast members Ruth Goodwin and James Graham quite literally live by this rule under a law developed that limits the number of words you may say in a single day. Characters, Bernadette and Oliver, meet just as the law is about to be enacted and now they must pursue each other within this new regulation. “They struggle with its rules, with obedience, with themselves, and with how they are going to live. They must make words count, and yet learn to talk without them. Political change becomes very personal.”

THE SEAT NEXT TO THE KING by Steven Elliott Jackson 

Starring Conor Ling and Kwaku Okyere, “The Seat Next to the King” is the winner of the “Best New Play” at this years Fringe festival. The play takes place in “September 1964. Behind the doors of a public washroom in a Washington D.C. park, two lives linked to two of America’s most important figures collide when a white man seeking sex meets a black male stranger.”

Find the full line up and details of the Toronto Fringe here, and continue following our arts and culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Follow Up: Has Pride Lost its Way?

Last Sunday, Pride Parades took place around the world, including one right here in Toronto, which happened to be the first parade I’ve ever attended. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more rainbows, naked people, drag queens, and babadooks all in one place.

In some ways, it felt like two parades were happening at once. There was a corporate parade with huge banks and tech companies atop floats, blasting music, handing out rainbow stickers with their logos prominently placed. This was the parade full of rainbow Canadian flags, with our Prime Minister and his family at the front, along with other politicians, rainbow flags on their cheeks, waving and smiling at the crowds.

The ‘other’ parade wasn’t as flashy, as loud, or as celebratory. This was the parade of Indigenous folks with Cree artist Kent Monkman serving as Grand Marshall. I saw signs noting that Indigenous presence here is a lot older than 150 years. Shortly after a float from TD Bank passed by, a sign went up asking why TD was investing in tar sands. One sign from Greenpeace demanded that Pride return to “queer liberation” and not “rainbow capitalism”. This was also the parade where Black Lives Matter, unregistered, showed up to remind us that they didn’t need to register because Pride belongs to them, to queer and trans people of color. When the first Toronto Pride Parade happened back in 1981, there were no corporate floats and the police were involved, but only because of the arrests made in Operation Soap (the raids on Toronto bathhouses) which led to Pride.

Photo taken from Pride Toronto

I’m not trying to say we should go back to 1981. I’m not even saying that corporations should be banned completely from Pride. But it still feels odd that the pounding music and free giveaways from Colgate and Pizza Pizza and others overshadowed small local queer groups and activists who clearly weren’t there for the free advertising and good press that comes from painting a bus in rainbow stripes and calling yourself progressive. It also felt more than a little bizarre that people from the Conservative Party were marching, considering that the new leader of the Conservatives is Andrew Scheer, who opposed gay marriage and voted against Bill C-16, which guarantees federal protections for LGBT people.

This division between “rainbow capitalism” and “queer liberation,” as Greenpeace put it, was obviously not just a tension in Toronto, and Prides all over the world were met with disagreements and controversies. In New York, controversy arose over the Toronto Police being invited to march in their Pride. And in Chicago, during a dyke march, three Jewish women were asked to leave because they had rainbow flags with stars of David in the middle, which were mistaken for Israeli flags.

Putting aside any debates about Israel and Palestine, it’s a bit disturbing to me as a queer Jewish woman to see a star of David, an old symbol of Judaism that has been around for thousands of years, be considered a political symbol or a nationalist one. Yes, the star is associated with the state of Israel, but as it turns out symbols can mean different things. Are we being asked to avoid representing our whole selves in the name of “equality”?

I will say, though, that the wrong response to this controversy would be asking to keep politics out of Pride. Pride is political. How can it not be? Our collective rights as a community are still in question. For example, legal protections for trans people has been a very recent subject of political discourse right here in Canada. LGBT people are facing persecution all over the world, from Trump/Pence in the US and Putin in Russia.

The real issue is, of course, determining the balance between trying to centre Pride events around the most marginalized members of the queer community, ensuring people don’t get left behind or left out for their religion, giving a space to people to celebrate and feel joy, having a protest, and remembering history. It’s a lot to keep track of. I don’t think there’s any easy answers here, and I know that this is a challenge the entire community will continue to face for a long time.

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A Conversation with The Junction on their New Album City Nights

As an artist,  you will do anything to practice your craft and make a living out of it. If you put in hours, days, and years of unrelenting hard work and dedication, you may be lucky enough to see your dreams become reality. That being said, the journey to success doesn’t always take overnight. Many artists spend years producing art that reflects their psyche. By exploring an artist’s chronologically, we see their journey on display with its ups and downs and their very real emotions.

The Junction is a Toronto-based band and has spent the past seventeen years navigating its music scene. Originally from Brampton, the trio is made up of Michael Taylor, Matt Jameson, and Brent Jackson. We had the opportunity to chat with the bassist, Matt Jameson, and discuss the band’s early history and their new album, City Nights.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first meet and form the band? 

Matt Jameson: Jackson and Taylor grew up down the street from one another and started playing music together with a music teacher. They later met Jameson after he saw them perform at a battle of the bands at his high school when they had no bass player.

K: What has it been like navigating the Toronto Music scene for the past seventeen years? Have you seen any major changes? 

MJ: It started with us coming to Toronto and playing a few shows and then feeling the pressure from promoters to bring people out and we didn’t really know how to handle it so we retreated back to the burbs. We played a lot around Brampton where we eventually grew our audience and then started playing more around Toronto like Guelph and Burlington. Getting older we finally started playing more in TO and have pretty much made The Horseshoe Tavern our home and have played there for every album release show we’ve ever had.

K: Tell me about City Nights. What does this album have to say? What can it teach us? 

MJ: City nights is written mainly from personal perspective from living in the city and bathing in its nightlife. The city thrives on social beings and party people. I’ve been dancing in the middle of it for years. As a musician I’ve benefited greatly from it. As a partier I’ve certainly abused it. I have a love-hate relationship with downtown these days. It brings the best and worst of me out. It can truly be damaging for restless souls.

This album’s lyrics are personal and self-reflective. I put the microscope on me and pulled myself apart in every way by questioning who I’ve become through substances, challenging my darkness, and my weaknesses while reminding myself to be a bit more empathetic. The party has turned me upside down and flipped me inside out.

City Nights is about many things but it’s mainly about checking in with yourself. It’s a big space here in Toronto. I definitely think this album can serve as anyone’s companion and make anyone feel less alone especially if they are also isolated by some of the thoughts on how the big city can move you and push you around.

If not to learn anything it can still be danced to.

Oh city nights… what would I do?

K: You mention that City Nights is an album that should first be heard through headphones. Why is this? 

MJ: Lots of space was carved out in the songwriting. It made way for other sonic elements to weave in between. Lots of different instruments, effects and panning create some awesome textures. If listened to on headphones, you’d be able to step inside the environment that was designed.

K: You are currently signed to Culvert music. How did this collaboration begin? Did you always intend on becoming signed for this particular album?

MJ: Jameson’s mom is friends with Phil’s (one of the founders) mom and he used to give Phil swimming lessons. Hence, Phil and Jameson go way back and have always been in touch over the years regarding music and the business around it. When it came time to talk about working with one another, we recorded some demos and shopped them around to labels and Culvert was clearly the best home for the project.

K: What is your favourite Toronto venue to play in?

MJ: The Horseshoe Tavern. There’s no place like home.

K: What has been your biggest challenge as a band? How did you overcome it? 

MJ: Getting out of our major label deal and getting another record made after that was probably our biggest hurdle. Check out this post from Brent a few months ago:

TEN YEARS FOLKS! 

10 years ago this was huge to us. Major Label. Early 20’s. Touring Canada. First time hearing ‘components of four’ on ‘edge102.1’ ‘Much Music’ playing the video. We didn’t know what kind of ride we were in for. But, we felt damn great.10 years later and looking back at it.. well… truthfully, it hasn’t aged well for me and the memories of struggle that came just after it’s release, aren’t the coolest to think about. But, those are key ingredients to our story and I’m blessed they unfolded the way they did…starting from one of the biggest fights we’ve ever had in NYC, directly after it was mastered… or being dropped from our booking agents, while on tour.. or driving 40 hours straight from Saskatchewan to Universals head office (unkempt and out of it) to ask if we could get off the label and then hear them tell us they didn’t like the record anyways. We really felt like lost dogs for a second. To top it off the song we were (most likely) signed for, ‘frequencies’ never became a hit. Just couldn’t get it on radio. Matt and I even went radio station to radio station all across Canada trying to get it serviced. We couldn’t get the damn hit on 😉 This record was a struggle and I’m sure most bands would’ve packed it in right then and there. But, these memories are my favourites. Because, It’s this struggle and this story, that divides us from the rest. Time and age and popularity mean nothing to us. 10 years ago and 10 years from now It’s always gonna be about the music. Music is our life and I personally don’t need anything to validate that. My wealth, is in the music. 

Sure we got knocked down and some people might even think we failed. But, I look at this record and I hear a band that didn’t change a single note for anyone. Sure I think it’s an ugly and challenging album. I don’t listen to it that often. But, I’ll never knock it. It’s a rock in our catalog. It helped us grow into our future albums. It allowed us to be free from any expectations on “making it”. 10 years on…The Junction lives and we are the real deal!

Love,

Brent and the guys xo

K: A Music Blog, Yea? Describes Who Am I as: “one enchanting song as its irresistible bass grove, dreamy vocals, and playfully driven synths are flawlessly fused with old-school seventies atmospherics.” Would you agree? Why or why not?

MJ: I wouldn’t deny those adjectives. Sounds a lot like what we were going for.

K: What’s next for you? 

MJ: We’re at that vulnerable point right now where we’re not really sure what’s next. We just put the record out and had a great album release show. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how people react to it and take it from there.

K: In another life, with a different set of dreams and goals, what career would you most likely have?

MJ: Surf bum/Astronaut.

Check out City Nights by The Junction and continue following our arts and culture coverage on  FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.