After Dark - Rebecca Perry

Written by Joss MacNeil

Rebecca Perry: Cabaret Performer extraordinaire. Fringe Award Winner. Redheaded Former Barista...and Spy?

Yes to everything except spy (as far as I know).

Rebecca has definitely made herself known as one of the city’s brightest cabaret stars, and it isn’t just because of her flaming red hair. From selling out international productions of her musical Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl (and its sequel, Adventures of…) to being Broadway World’s Best Fringe Production pick two years running, Rebecca exudes a staggering work ethic and has the accolades to prove it.

As someone who was raised by parents who were constantly reinventing themselves throughout their careers, from a very early age she learned the importance of doing things her own way. When it came to light that she was entertaining the idea of an arts career, she had the full support of her parents, with the demand that whatever she chose to do, she had to do it full force.

“You deserve something if you work hard and you’re constantly feeding a skill set that grows with every project that you do,”

She attended George Brown College for classical theatre specifically to gain an understanding of dramatic structure. After graduation, she ventured out to build a life and career in the city. She described herself at this time as the fresh-faced ingénue stepping of the train and saying, “Here I am, New York!” But she was dropping her bags in The Six, and when she dropped them, she dropped them hard. What would follow was the harsh reality check that every theatre kid experiences. Theatre school is maybe 1/100th of the journey - though while it’s happening it feels excruciatingly important. Recalling this time period, she finds comfort in keeping her head down and avoiding comparisons. “It’s okay,” she says, “It’s happening to all of us. You need to learn to ignore the super muscular men in your class that are already on Grey’s Anatomy.”

It was during these early days of her career that she became convinced of the role that hard work plays. She explains how the industry will chew you up and spit you out if you aren’t prepared to do the heavy lifting. In a generation where everyone is rewarded for just showing up, the arts industry has vehemently maintained its standard of work ethic. “You deserve something if you work hard and you’re constantly feeding a skill set that grows with every project that you do,” Rebecca says.

It’s not just physical labour that the industry demands; the mental strain is just as weighty. Tired of being type-cast, she fought hard against her calling-card that she failed to see as a ticket to get work. It was during this time that a friend approached her about writing. When she asked him why he thought she should write, he told her that she seemed like she had something to say, and that translated into the characters she was playing. Lucky for us, that’s when the dream of Confessions of a Red Headed Coffeeshop Girl was first born.

Drawn to the open arms of the musical theatre community, Rebecca wanted to write her story of feeling stuck in a job when you want to be doing and seeing absolutely everything - an experience a lot of 20 and 30 somethings can relate to. It would go on to Fringe-hop across the country and even travel the high seas to Europe where the cabaret scene is thriving. A country born with theatre in its veins, the UK embraced the show and Confessions sold out at Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. Adventures would follow suit and sell out every performance at the same festival in 2016.

I feel like I could write a lengthily bio-piece on Rebecca’s career and reading it would inspire me to map out my future to be identical to hers, but that would be cheating. It occurred to me very early on in the conversation that she is the artist I want to be in 5 years from now. Not just because of her success or her work ethic; her drive to be not only a voice, but also a resource for young emerging artists is exemplary. And isn’t that what we should all strive to be? A hardworking and neighbourly artist who aims to lift up the people around them?

In this job, we so often place the value of person’s art on their talent alone, when their attitude is just as important. This is why Rebecca is such a delight. I had to research every award that was attached to her name because she didn’t mention them in the interview. It seems that to her, the process of feeding her skillset and the blood, sweat and tears it took to get to the first curtain was a more important story to tell.

And isn’t that what we should all strive to be? A hardworking and neighbourly artist who aims to lift up the people around them?

Rebecca Perry is an artist that I greatly respect because she’s an artist who respects the journey it took to get where she is today. She eats, sleeps and breathes her craft, while still being humble. She has all the skills of an amazing performer, and recognizing this, she finds a way to send it back into the community. Cabaret Performer Extraordinaire, Former Barista, Redheaded Fringe Winner, (potential) Spy, and Role Model: make sure you keep your eyes out for this force of nature.

Joss is a budding stand-up comedian and musical theatre performer. You can follow her on Twitter @Jocelyn_MacNeil.

After Dark - Aidan Shipley

Written by Joss MacNeil

Why do we make art? Why do we share art? Who is our art for? If no one ever sees what we make, do we still call ourselves artists?

I ask myself this series of questions in this order a lot. Living in a metropolitan city such as this one, you can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting someone’s latest creative statement. While this is one of the reasons I made it my mission to create a life here, at times the material I come across can feel inaccessible, like I’m not meant to really understand it. I had this phenomenon articulated for me by up and coming film director Aidan Shipley on May 30th, 2016, who happens to be an amazing artist and totally down-to-earth dude. 

Aidan first entered the world of performance when he was cast in Stratford’s (2000) production of Medea. NDB. During his youth he would learn from some of our country’s finest actors on stage at Stratford, including Seana McKenna, Peter Donaldson, Martha Henry…the list goes on. Aidan and his family relocated to Dublin, Ireland, after his father took the position of Artistic Director of the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2004, it was here that Aidan would switch focus from the dramatic arts to hip-hop. He describes this as a “weird ass trajectory” when recalling how he took the stage as Prince Arthur in King John (Stratford) one minute and was serving up some sick moves in bars the next. This trajectory becomes much less "weird ass" once he disclosed that he was thrown off the acting trail after seeing the movie You Got Served. 

Like the rest of us, he was compelled by its power.

Side note: does anyone other than me (and obviously Aidan) remember You Got Served? 

Remember when the character Liyah says “Your boy is really tripping.” ?

That’s my favourite line in a movie ever.

Oh my God, remember Lil’ Fizz?!

HOLY SHIT THAT’S MY FAVOURITE LINE ALSO.

Anyway…

After returning to Canada, Aidan attended Ryerson University for [Film Studies] and very quickly felt like he didn’t have anything to show for himself. He recalls the times where he would call home to his parents to tell them he didn’t have anything they could see but swore he would get better. It was during this time that his first short, Bridges was created (in his words) out of frustration.

It was during this time in university that Aidan learned one of his best networking skills. He explains that going to parties in university taught him how to talk about a project without really sounding like he was pitching an idea.

“What is someone going to do with your card? They’re not going to remember you from that they’re going to remember that stupid thing you both laughed at,” he explains.

Authenticity and community seem to be two concepts that are prevalent in Aidan’s work. He also admits he doesn’t appreciate film that doesn’t adhere to either theme.

“I really don’t like films that cater to a very small group of movie buffs and alienate more than half of their audience,” he says.

This.

This is the quote that got the wheels turning for me, because he makes an excellent point. What is the point of art if it is aiming to exclude a percentage of its audience? Is it even necessary if no one understands it? Is art something that can be categorized as necessary and unnecessary?

Amazing^

It's this kind of spiraling mentality that reminds me that every thing I come across may not be directly intended for me, and that’s fine. It’s the human condition to be confronted with something you don’t understand and seek to regulate it, that’s inquisition met with frustration. However, what I get from an experience you may not, and vice versa. It doesn’t mean either of us is right or wrong. That’s kind of the central theme of creativity. There aren’t a ton of rules.

On the other hand, I do believe that the arts have the ability to change our social situations, and if you are smart/brave enough to have your voice heard, you have the opportunity to affect your environment.

As I mentioned before, Aidan is a really down to earth guy. He spends most of his money on Ubers, and he really hates mannequins, jellyfish and clowns (he advises not to pee on any of them). He understands the importance of being both creative and practical. He understands the challenges that come with being an arts worker. Therefore, he, like so many of us, has his joe-job which allows him to pursue his career.

He believes that in film, we must bring to light the performers that aren’t being represented. We must build a platform for great actors to showcase their talents.

He’s someone that makes me excited about the direction in which the film industry is headed.

At this point I’ve said a lot of things, asked maybe more questions than I’ve answered, and watched You Got Served twice in the process of writing this (along with every one of Aidan’s films I could get my hands on). I guess what I want to leave you with is this: Have conversation, have LOTS of conversation. Surround yourself with different people and talk to each other. Conversation is contagious, and the more we learn, the more we understand (as wild as that sounds). The more we understand, the easier it is to co-exist.

Now, GO TALK TO EACH OTHER.

Joss is a budding stand-up comedian and musical theatre performer. You can follow her on Twitter @Jocelyn_MacNeil.

After Dark - Jeff Ho

Written by Joss MacNeil

On Monday, May 9th, I arrive at The Theatre Centre  feeling stuck and creatively stilted - not an uncommon side effect of a Monday. And then a very good thing happens: I sit down next to Jeff Ho. Jeff is the artist in the hot seat for this week’s conversation and is also hands down my new favourite person.

I’ve been to Dark Nights a few times before, and I’ve actually met Jeff before too - he spoke on a panel I moderated a week earlier alongside Wayne Burns, one of Dark Nights’ co-founders. Tonight, there is an immediately cheerful energy among the group that has assembled. My new friend seated next to me joins me in giggling through the entire oath (did I mention you take an oath? Don’t worry; no blood sacrifice is required - not your first time anyway). I arrived with a CliffsNotes understanding of Jeff’s career experiences and am lucky enough to have had a few of my questions answered already.

I say CliffsNotes, but in reality I quickly learn that I have only encountered the tip of the iceberg that is Jeff Ho.

As we get into the conversation, Jeff talks about his early memories of coming to Canada in the new millennium. He covers what it was like to go through the gigantic upheaval of shifting cultures, and talks about the very profound and scary discovery that he was meant to be an artist. He also talks about inflection, a subject neither you nor I would expect to be fascinating - except that it is. Did you know that in Cantonese one sound contains up to 9 different inflections? Basically that means you can get to the point much quicker in Cantonese than in English. Jeff thinks this can be attributed to the Hong Kong culture: a city with glass partitions on the subway platform to prevent eager transit users from shoving one another onto the tracks in an effort to arrive at their destination seconds faster.

There are a lot of reasons that I find myself very charmed by Jeff. To start, he has an incredibly calm demeanor. He makes you feel at ease, yet there is nothing boring or unengaging about him. Secondly, he is a very smart artist. Not just smart, not just creative, a real example of what a fine marriage the two can create. He’s also driven: by his own admission, when he believes in a project there is nothing that can stand in his way.

But it’s neither his personality nor his motivation that stands out most to me about him - it’s his advocacy. When Jeff is asked to name one of his greatest inspirations, he answers Yaël Farber. When asked at what point he decided to transfer from Concordia to the National Theatre School of Canada, he says "When Sandra Oh won the Gascon-Thomas Award." Does he have any male role models? “Not really,” he admits. “Practically all of them are women.”

I don’t know why this struck a chord with me as intimately as it did - perhaps it was the fact that I haven’t encountered a lot of males in my life who are primarily concerned with the woman’s perspective (without being patronizing). Coming from a family populated by two brothers and dozens of male cousins, I was raised to equate a “woman’s intuition” with caregiving. It certainly didn’t encompass the thoughts and opinions of someone who might be considered a leader. And how does he explain his gravitation toward female sources of inspiration? Citing his mother, he recounts how in spite of the pain that exists in that relationship, she prepared him for the world and he owes her dearly. He explains that another aspect of his magnetism towards female heroes is his admiration for the strength of underdogs; he finds himself drifting towards the most unheard voice in the room.

As men, there is a certain inclination to write stories about women - at least according to two of the male writers in the room. In Jeff’s case, he was brought up exclusively by females, and seeing their struggles so intimately left him feeling that it is his responsibility to dismantle the obstacles they face in society.

“I tell stories about real life situations. Things that happened to a woman, gender expectations, I want to talk about them, but I don’t want to identify with or say that I assume I know the experiences of women.”

That is the kind of sentiment that stays with you long after it has been said. To hear someone explain that they want to talk about the struggles of an underrepresented group but also admit that, lacking the lived experience, they don’t fully understand their challenges is a seriously refreshing thing to hear. So refreshing that my icy and at times overly defensive feminist heart started to melt.

I think that idea is something we can all take to heart. As a society we are so careful not to offend anyone that we often end up closing ourselves off to experiences that can be eye-opening.  An example: I am a stand up comedian. I am also 5’11’’ and plus size. When people hear my jokes, they hear the observations of someone who lives in a society that doesn’t provide an overarching sense of acceptance, but they still laugh. A lot of it is probably shock value, (I have a joke where I refer to myself as Tilikum from Sea World) but most of it is the fact that they haven’t heard this story before, because no one has thought to ask.

The difference between Jeff and I (setting aside the fact that this impeccably dressed man is ten times classier than I can ever hope to be) is that I am speaking solely from my own experience because I am often too afraid to identify with other people’s lives. I worry that veering too far from what I know personally could mean offending someone or reducing their experience to a spectacle.

Jeff, on the other hand, is specifically after the voice of the underdog. He brings it to light and he does his research. He doesn’t say “I understand what it’s like to be a woman because I remember how it felt to be an outsider when I first came to Canada.” He is very clear that while he is influenced by the strength of his role models, that doesn’t mean they are the same - and why should they be? I don’t understand what it’s like to move to a different continent at only ten years old and pick my North American name out of a phone book, but it’s still a story worth hearing and I shouldn’t close myself off to it because I don’t identify with it.

Seeking out people who don’t look like us, think like us, act like us or talk like us - that’s where the real conversation begins. That is where we grow.

It is this kind of post-Dark Nights frame of mind that makes me so grateful that I pulled myself out of my spiraling Netflix addiction and dragged my ass across town to have my world re-stimulated for a mere $5 cover charge. And I know I’m not alone in this - these few hours once every two weeks are exactly what I know so many of my fellow artists in their 20s are craving and hoping for. The opportunity to learn about something you never considered, the chance to discuss something that you never thought you’d talk about - that is how we grow as artists.

I’m obviously not suggesting that after 30 you should throw discovery to the wayside and abandon self-growth. What I am saying is that this particular period is so important for an artist. For most of us, this is a time of great upheaval. A time where we challenge what we were taught in our teens, appreciate the value of some of the lessons of our childhood, and seek to establish what it is we want to create and what impact we will have.

Do you see a hole in the industry? Fill it. Do you wholeheartedly believe in the strength of your idea? Don’t let anything stand in your way. Do you see a group of people without a voice? Find out what you can do to become an ally.

Go, do, see, create, make, experience, ask, challenge, try, fail, and grow. 

Joss is a budding stand-up comedian and musical theatre performer. You can follow her on Twitter @Jocelyn_MacNeil.