field notes.04 // Helen Donnelly & Neil Muscott

field notes.
episode 04 // Helen Donnelly & Neil Muscott
a foolish conversation about clowns

June 2nd, 2016
8:30pm
Sorauren Park

I catch up with my clown teacher, Helen Donnelly and her partner/director Neil Muscott to chat about clowns, flat tires, preconceptions, clown logic and realness.

helendonnelly.com
fooproductions.com
fooandfriends.com


reverend foo

The Reverend Foo Revival Time
playing June 8th, 10th & 12th at Factory Theatre
as part of the Toronto Festival of Clowns.

2011-TFOC-Logo-SM

dossier: Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee for MORRO AND JASP: GO BAKE YOURSELF

As a fellow clown, albeit a new one who really has no experience clowning with or around these two, and York alumnae (it’s about time I shamelessly showed pride of my roots on this site – I realize that sounds like I harbour problems with York’s training. Really, I don’t; I had an excellent time there and think the training I received was exactly what I needed. I just don’t talk about it much anymore. Gotta move forward, amiright?) I am greatly excited to bring both Amy Lee and Heather Marie Annis by today to chat a little about the reprise of their hit, GO BAKE YOURSELF! That’s right, Morro and Jasp are in the field to chat about what got them started.

Amy, Heather and I mostly just missed each other at York University. I had seen them around, and I think Amy had seen me, or at least knew my face, but it wasn’t until, maybe three Fringes ago that we actually met and had a conversation. It’s funny because I think I’ve actually seen these two perform more frequently out of nose than I have in nose (if you haven’t seen these two bust out their acting chops, do yourself a favour and keep your ear to the ground for what they’re up to next; usually they come as a pair, but individually they are their own unique forces of theatre-nature. It’s quite refreshing).

I know Fringe is well underway, but if you need to fill a hole in your roster and you’re just hearing about this show right now (which you probably aren’t), there’s still time to catch it! You’ll just have to line up a bit early…

dossier #18:

morro and jasp ii copy

Who are we talking with?

Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee (sometimes known as Morro and Jasp).

What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to clowning, to Fringing, to wherever the hell you are in life)

We were in theatre school at York and discovered that we really loved working together. Byron Laviolette (our director and co-collaborator) had studied Pochinko clown and after he saw us in a physical piece together, asked us if we’d be interested in playing around with clown. We said yes, having no idea what to expect, and then we kept saying yes to every opportunity to experiment with/perform clown.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

Amy decided when she was 6. Heather decided in high school. Although that was acting, not clown. Clown was a bit of a surprise love for both of us.

Why MORRO AND JASP: GO BAKE YOURSELF?

We both love cooking, baking, and food in a serious way. When we were roommates we would experiment with new recipes and they would almost always turn out disastrously (even though on our own, we are pretty kitchen saavy). We thought, “What could be more fun than letting our clowns play in the kitchen?” We also wanted to look at our relationship with food and how food helps us relate to one another. And we have a whole lotta fun doing it…

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or can someone expect from MORRO AND JASP: GO BAKE YOURSELF?

Fun, delicious, and full of love.

You’ve done the Canadian Fringe circuit often in the past. What do you look forward to the most when touring a new show to a new city?

Every audience is difference. And because we interact with our audiences so much, that really impacts us and the show. It is always really exciting to see how the space, city and people will affect the show and how we can play with that.

What is your favourite memory from a past Fringe circuit show?

Ah! Too many to pick one! Although, if we have to…We created a very audience-dependent ending to our show last year and we had no idea whether it would actually work, so on opening, when it did, we cried so many tears of joy!

Describe MORRO AND JASP: GO BAKE YOURSELF in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

Mmmmm….

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

Here is our trailer for it:

We are sold out of our advance tickets for the run, but there are still tickets at the door every show!

We want to wish every Fringer out there, whether you’re performing or watching, so much love, so much gratitude, and may the Force be with you!

morro and jasp - fringe13 go bake yourself 2013 11x17 textured draft 2

dossier: Natalie Frijia for WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP THERE?

The last time this year I did something truly wintery I was skating with some friends over at Christie Pits. This is where I glided into Natalie, someone I haven’t seen probably since our days in University together. I directed a show of Natalie’s in my fourth year, an experience that really helped shape how I would approach directing and general theatre-making for years after. So, while we were out on the ice, me stumbling, her stumbling more gracefully, we chatted about the upcoming WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP THERE? festival her company Back Burner produces and curates. Seeing as how today I’m doing another truly wintery thing, having no place of work to go to because of bus cancellations and instead deciding to stay in my pyjamas and watch the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, I decided it would be fitting to share this now.

So, without any ado, on to dossier # 5:

natalie frijia

Who are we talking with?

Natalie Frijia, one of the coordinators of the What Are You Doing Up There?! Festival with Back Burner Productions!

What drew you to this? (to theatre, to WAYDUT, to each other, to wherever you are right now?)

One day, I presented a playwriting exercise in front of an audience. I hated speaking in front of people. The result: not great. Mortifying, actually. One member of the audience told me it was the worst piece of theatre they have ever seen. Ouch. As I was walking out, contemplating my decision to be in theatre, someone ran up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. I vaguely recognized the person, having seen him around the school halls, and I knew his name, but I was also fairly sure he didn’t know me. He said, “I really liked what you did. I run a theatre company, and we’re organizing a theatre festival. We want to reach out to more emerging female playwrights. Would you be interested in bringing a show there?” Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.

And then, he filled in the details. The festival would be in the basement of his house.

Right. A festival in the basement of a house. Sure, that’s a real thing. I had images in my head of walking into a horror story, all because I was excited that someone didn’t hate my work – or, more specifically, the idea that I could have a second chance in front of an audience.

But I asked around school. This guy – Guy Doucette, in fact – people said good things about him. People said, “If Guy says he’s having a theatre festival, then he’s having a theatre festival.”

Curiosity got the better of me. I went to check it out.

And LOVED it. The mix of emerging and more established artists, the air of collaboration and constructive criticism between artists, the sheer joy of just sharing your work in front of an excited and accepting audience. It was a great space to both develop work, connect with fellow artists, and grow in a theatrical community.

In 2009, Guy asked if I’d want to help him out with some festival organizing.

Five years later, here I am, excited to keep creating opportunities for artists to put their ideas on stage, just like the festival once did for me.

Why What Are You Doing Up There? Haven’t I heard of this festival before, but with a slightly different name?

This festival has had more than a few names. We started out at the What Are You Doing DOWN There?! Festival back in 2007, in the basement of Guy’s house. After four years there, and more than a few festival nights filled with audience members making each other’s acquaintances by sitting almost directly on a stranger’s lap, we moved into the back space of the Dominion on Queen – and became the What Are You Doing Back There?! Festival. As we want the festival to keep growing, keep reaching out to emerging artists and developing our connections with artists we’ve worked with in the past, we wanted to move UP to a new space – at Siren Rock Studios. And, as fun Back Burner history connection: Andrew Cromey, one of the owners of Siren Rock Studios, was Guy’s old housemate, and used to be a part of running Back Burner Productions when it was still down there in the basement.

Back Burner has humble and quite charming origins. Tell us your favourite story from the house.

February 20th, 2010. We had twelve acts scheduled that night, plus an MC, and at 7:45pm, the basement was full.

Not just full.

PACKED.

I was squished into the “tech booth” (which, at this point, was little more than a corner of the basement, covered by a curtain, that was already being pushed in by audience members sitting up against it) with Guy, our technical, Alyksandra Ackerman, and the MC for the evening, Kristian Reimer. We debated our options. We could close the doors to incoming audience members, ask any participating artists to sit outside… Or, we could dismantle the tech booth, stack up a few rows of chairs, put some pillows on the ground, and ask people to get cozy and make friends with their neighbours.

We opted for the latter.

Our stage went from an already tiny space – maybe a 5′ or 6′ by 4′, if that, to a square, two steps across, right up against the back wall. Our opening act for that evening was musician Corrina Keeling. She walked out on stage, stepping over audience members, took a look around, sat down on the floor, and just played.

At one count, we had about 80 people in the basement. Plus Luna, the house cat, Spanky, the dog, both of whom made frequent and unannounced appearances in the acts. We may have been squished, but there was a fantastic sense of community there that night.

What is the earliest memory you have of wanting, or needing to do this?

The idea of the What Are You Doing Down/Back/Up There?! Festival is to get those projects we’re working on, off our back burners, and onto the stage. I think a lot of times, we wait for perfect moments to show our work to an audience – when the script is just right, or when the opportunity arises, and it’s hard to develop as an artist if you don’t show your work to an audience. We want to make that opportunity.

Personally though, I was drawn to the festival because it was an opportunity to do something and connect emerging and established artists NOW.

Years before I even heard of Back Burner, I schemed with a good friend about starting up an arts festival. He was a musician and filmmaker. I was a playwright and working in scenic art. We wanted to pool our resources and create a gigantic, magical arts festival… someday. After we graduated, and made a bit of money, and got a name for ourselves in the art community, etc. There was a lot of scheming, and a lot of saying “someday”.

To make a long story short, he died, and we never followed through on any of those ideas we had on the back burner. And we had some GREAT ideas.

So the earliest memory I have of wanting or needing to do a festival like this is that: you can’t wait for great opportunities to develop your work, connect with fellow artists, and get your ideas on stage, to just pop up, fully formed and fantastic. You have to make opportunities, and the more you work on them, the better they’ll become.

Which is what we hope for the festival: that every year is going to be bigger and more fantastic than the last, and that the artists who participate will grow from their experience.

In a sentence, tell us what to expect from WAYDUT.

An eclectic, eccentric and exciting mix of emerging and established artists in a celebration of the arts, where every night will bring you something very different.

Describe the event in three adjectives or phrases.

Celebration

Community

Artistic exploration

Do you have anything you want to share with us? A story? A photo? A song? A video?

I attached a photo of the really crowded night at the festival. It’s of performer, Jeff Giles (who’s in the festival this year as well), surrounded by audience members.

Back Burner Feb 20-2010 Jeff Giles

Check out Back Burner’s Facebook page for the WAYDUT Festival. The line-up is impressive and multi-faceted each night. It’s guaranteed to be an enjoyable time. Nicole Ratjen, a good friend of mine, will be MCing the first night as her clown Princess Penelope Pamplemousse as she searches for her wayward Prince Charming on Valentine’s Day. On Saturday, the 16th, come on out and see me in a staged reading of a new play by Michael Bedford, tentatively called [play]. 

Back Burner Productions

dossier: Helen Donnelly of FOO PRODUCTIONS and the FOOLISH CABARET

Today I’m proud to present a dossier for the generous and lovely Helen Donnelly! Aside from being my current clown teacher, Helen has had a long and illustrious career in both clown and circus performance. She’s with us to talk about the latest instalment of the Foolish Cabaret, an event I am happy to have debuted my clown at in 2012. 

Right then. On to it. dossier # 3:

Helen Donnelly

Who are we talking with?

Helen Donnelly. I’m a circus, theatrical and therapeutic clown. I’m producer of the new ‘Foolish Cabaret’ and Artistic Director of Foo Productions where I produce and create solo and group shows for festivals, theatre and circus events.

What drew you to this? (to clowning, to theatre, to wherever you are right now?)

Coming from a theatre background, I was an actor with designs for the stage, tv and film. But after a few years of auditioning, performing, wrapping up, back to auditioning again…I started to crave more of a through line to my craft. Where could I satisfy this? I was also seeking something in physical theatre. And so this led me naturally to the world of clown. I never set out to clown, and for the first few years I was awful. Truly. Crickets out there when I went on stage. But gradually (with the help of keen and talented outside eyes), I got better at it. I have no idea what made me stick to it. Stubbornness, I’m guessing.

Why the Foolish Cabaret?

I felt it was time to fill a void in Toronto to have a dedicated space for established physical theatre artists to promote their work & share their artistry while at the same time an opportunity for emerging artists to put polish on to their pieces in order to give everyone the best experience possible. So it’s about serious fools wanting to present polished pieces and give the audience the best value for their time and money. It’s also around educating people new to mime, clown, mask and bouffon. I feel there is so much talent in this city that needs to be encouraged and treasured.

What is the earliest memory you have of wanting, or needing to do this?

As soon as ‘The S.P.A.C.E’ closed back in 2003. For the last 10 years we have been orphaned and that is hard for a community. That said, the majority of clowns in our small community are newer to it, so there is not that history of knowing Mump and Smoot and training in a central spot. But I miss it. It was a special time.

Tell us a bit about therapeutic clown. I’ve heard stories about that Dr. Flap.

Ah, man—how long do you have??! Basically, this hidden art form has been an incredible opportunity for me to continue to be challenged emotionally and artistically 3 days a week. I’m currently working in pediatrics at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital and I have also worked for years at SickKids and in Long Term Care Facilities primarily with elders suffering from dementia. At Holland Bloorview there are over 60 inpatients who are brain injured, multi-disabled or have musculoskeletal rehab concerns. It has been my joy to work there as Dr Flap for the last 5 years but also as trainer of new nose hires and program coordinator. I love my job there and I especially love how it balances out my life. To be able to be in service to this unique population in clown and with a clown partner…I feel so lucky. I am dedicated to the growth of this emerging profession.

What is your favourite memory from a past Foolish Cabaret?

Oh…that is a toughy! I would have to say being backstage with master mime Giuseppe Condello….pinching myself as we both warmed up backstage together with me thinking “Is this really happening? Am I really sharing the space with this man??” So thrilling!

Describe the cabaret in three adjectives or a phrase.

‘A space for serious fools to call home’

Do you have anything you want to share with us? A story? A photo? A song? A video?

Sure! I’m attaching The Foolish Cabaret promo video. Also a video of me in clown as Flap in a day care facility with elders with early to mid-stage dementia. And my brand new promo video of my show Saucisse which I’m quite proud of; hot off the press! And the Foolish poster. See you all on Monday at Foolish! Doors open at 7:40 so get there in good time! Thanks Andrew for this great opportunity to plug it!

The Foolish Cabaret

The Foolish Cabaret promo:

Dr. Flap:

Saucisse: A Foo Musical promo: