The directors of one of Fringe Festival’s most exciting plays, Junk Food Satan, talk to Fuse about their company, Tinkerspace, winning a Brickenden, and what makes theatre special.
Joel Thibert: For those who don’t know, who and what is Tinkerspace Theatre?
E: I guess we created Tinkerspace Theatre as an outlet for making the things we like to make. Tyler and I both have other jobs. Tinkerspace is a side project that we hope to grow into something bigger. We’re both from London originally. We moved away to Toronto for university, but recently we both came back and still had this desire to make theatre in London, because it’s a great place to incubate projects and experiment with them.
JT: Last year’s Tinkerspace play, Shadfly, about the life of Egon Schiele, had a much larger cast than Junk Food Satan. What drew you towards a less populated production?
E: Just logistically, it takes a lot to coordinate a large group of people and get everyone to rehearse with some kind of regularity. We wanted to make things easier. We wanted to create Junk Food Satan as a piece of devised theatre, so already we were looking at a much more intensive and intimate rehearsal. To be able to have that ongoing process of working as a tightly connected unit – not just to rehearse a script but to create a new work, to develop it – is something that is nearly impossible to do with a larger group. With just the four of us, we could all have a lot of creative input.
JT: Do you feel there are common threads in your plays aside from the cast and crew? Do different ideas for plays come from a similar place?
T: I think about this a lot, actually. I know in the work where I have a hand in the writing (so this applies to Junk Food Satan but not Shadfly), two things tend to factor into the story: food, and worlds outside of conventional reality. I’m not really sure why this is. Probably because I’m just a bit of a dreamer, and I like food.
E: I think the common thread is really the mandate: theatre in response to art, media, and technology. Of course that’s purposefully a very open mandate — there are so many ways you can respond to so many aspects of those three umbrella headings. So maybe the common thread is a willingness to experiment with our responses.
JT: Is there anything you feel that theatre as an art form can accomplish better than music, literature, etc.? Any areas where you think it falls short?
E: This is an interesting question for me, because my background is in film, not theatre, so I often consider the differences between the two mediums and what they can offer an audience. I think where theatre really excels is in sort of surrounding a person in an unfolding moment. There’s always going to be a sense of participation with live theatre that is missing from watching something on a screen. Actually being in a room with the actors, with the rest of the audience, creates a kind of weird social contract. Whether you witness something disturbing or moving, or something that makes you uncomfortable, there really is no “off” button. You are stuck there, experiencing it.
T: My playwriting professor, Judith Rudakoff, said that one of the few things theatre does better than film is that it makes you feel like you’re really there. I think I agree with that, . We have to represent several locations with just one set, and that forces the audience to actively engage their imaginations. We provide some small prompts – like a chair, a sound effect, or a costume – but it’s up to the audience to draw on their own experiences to complete the illusion. And I think because the audience has to help create the world of the play, this makes the experience much more personal, and much more immediate than any film,
E: I don’t know if I would say the experience is more personal, because you can have a very personal experience watching a film by yourself in a dark room, and that experience is both personal and private. The big difference for me when I see a play is that I am in a public space, always. As an audience member, your reactions are somewhat on display. There’s a self-consciousness that’s present when watching something live. That can be good and bad. I definitely agree that there is the sense of immediacy. You can have something like a fight or flight response watching a play. I think that’s a lot harder to create with film, even in a cinema.
T: As far as where theatre falls short, I think it’s definitely in the convenience category. Parking and traffic downtown can be difficult, to the point where it’s really easy to say to yourself, “ I could just watch Netflix in the comfort of my room.” A potential solution to this problem is to create theatre in more easily accessible spaces, but it’s still difficult to compete with the endless amounts of entertainment you can get online for free.
JT: Without giving us the plot, how would you describe Junk Food Satan?
E: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the key of Isaac Asimov. Maybe.
T: Nothing to do with junk or food or Satan.
JT: Erin, your script for Shadfly won the 2014 Brickenden Awardfor Outstanding Original Script. Does the award feel like validation of the work you’re doing?
E: It’s always cool to be recognized by your peers, and London has a really supportive and fun theatre community. I think the Brickendens are a great way to showcase some of the work theatre creators do, and put it out there in a way that facilitates making connections to other writers, actors, directors, and designers. In terms of it feeling like a validation, I don’t know if I’d call it that. I still don’t feel like I’m done writing that script. I’ll probably never be completely satisfied with it.
T: Speaking on behalf of the cast of Shadfly, I think we’re all much happier with the script than the playwright will ever be.
JT: Aside from those who are already involved in Tinkerspace, is there anyone you would love to work with? A dream cast and/or crew?
E: We’ve been trying to get Julia Webb to be in one of our shows, but scheduling hasn’t yet allowed it to happen. Julia’s sat in on a couple of our rehearsals and given some great input. She’s a fantastic actor and mentor and I know we’d love to finally do a show with her. And if, you know, Christopher Plummer showed up for an audition I don’t think we’d turn him away.
T:. We’re also really interested in continuing to work with Fanshawe students and alumni. Basically we like working with friendly people who are good at the things they do.
JT: Are there any other communities in London you’re involved with?
E: I tend to be a hermit. But I do go to Poetry London when I can. Also, Taylor Axford, in our cast, is part of Shut the Front Door Improv and they are hilarious. Everyone should go to their shows! This might not technically fit the definition of a community, but I am part of the portion of London’s population that has been playing a lot of Dragon Age: Inquisition lately.
T: When I’m not rehearsing, I’ll often volunteer at the ARTS Project as an usher or bartender. It’s a great way to see shows for free. Sometimes I go with Erin to the Poetry London meetings, and those are a lot of fun too. It will be great to be a part of the Fringe community this year. There’s such a broad variety of shows – I’m looking forward to seeing as many as I can!