Reeling With Laughter & Jeremy Webb & Stacy Smith*

jeremy webb & stacy smith in fishing

Jeremy Webb and Stacy Smith are two pillars in the theatre community of Nova Scotia, both having worked extensively at Neptune Theatre and in theatres across the province for well over a decade. The two close friends have teamed up for Jeremy Webb’s newest play, Fishing (presented by his Production Company Off the Leash), a comedy about Internet Dating that chronicles one man’s attempt to date seven different women in seven days and to find true love. It is being remounted at Chester Playhouse July 31st- August 3rd, after a run at the Neptune Scotiabank Studio in November and  premiering in Spring 2012 as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s SuperNova Festival to positive reviews and touring last summer. Jeremy Webb, Stacy Smith and I sat down to talk about Fishing, dating and the Halifax theatre scene at the turn of the 21st Century, among other things, on the comfy couches of the Neptune Studio back in November. Here is the essence of the conversation, during which there was much sarcasm, much laughter and much interrupting of one another by all three of us.  

Amanda Campbell (AC): Would you like to tell the people of Nova Scotia a little bit about each other?

Jeremy Webb (JW): Laughs. After you, Stacy.

Stacy Smith (SS): Jeremy Webb: Brilliant, talented, mega-mind. One man standing alone in the Theatre Universe of the Maritimes laughs. New daddy. British. Funny writer.

AC: Very nice. And Stacy?

JW: Well, somebody that is worthy of having roles written for her.

SS: That goes totally back to you…

JW: No, No it doesn’t Howls of laughter from all three of us.

SS: But you’re the person who wrote them! So you’re really saying that about yourself!

JW: What I’m saying is that when I was thinking of writing the play, I was only thinking of writing it for you.

SS: Okay.

JW: Is that okay?

SS: Yes.

JW: Good. Pause. Mother. Wife. Talented actress. Stupidly living in Stratford [Ontario].

SS: Stratford is awesome.

JW: Stratford is a great place.

AC: It just means you don’t live here.

JW: Yeah. And, a little unhinged. A little crazy. In a good way. A little neurotic. But aren’t we all? And very, very career-focused and ambitious.

AC: Nice. When did you two meet one another?

JW: 1999? I moved into the country in 1998 and we became roommates in either 98 or 99.

AC: Oh, you were roommates.

JW: Yeah. We were roommates for a year, yeah.

AC: That’s fun!

JW: Yeah, yeah. On Inglis Street, in a building that has been knocked down and replaced by another building. It was Party-Central. There are lots of photos of Patricia Zentilli, Marla McLean, Martha Irving…

SS: it wasn’t party central like we were having people over all the time. People just came over on their own.

JW: Yeah, yeah. But there were always people there.

SS: Yeah, but that’s what you do when you’re thirty and single—we were all single. We dated people off and on, but we would go to the [Economy] Shoe Shop

JW: We lived in the Shoe Shop.

SS: We lived in the Shoe Shop-

JW: Along with everyone else.

AC: That’s the actor’s dream, pretty much, right here.

JW: Yeah. When I first saw this country, before I lived here, back in 1996, I remember being in the Shoe Shop and seeing all the actors being all “actor-y” and-

SS: What does that mean!?!?!!? Huge laugh

JW: Air kissing and being all cool like, “We’re in the Shoe Shop” and I vowed that I would never become a part of that culture and then two years later-

AC: You became their King.

JW: I began getting phone calls at the Shoe Shop. It became the place where you would find me. And the phone would ring and I would answer it myself… and I’m not even exaggerating. That’s kind of sad. I spent every penny I earned in the Shoe Shop.

AC: Hilarious. What was the first show that you two did together?

SS: [The] Government Inspector [at Neptune Theatre in April 2000]

JW: Yeah. Was that the first one? Was that before Sylvia?

SS: Yeah. We did Sylvia later.

JW: [The] Government Inspector, directed by Linda Moore.

AC: Ah. I saw that.

SS: Yeah, it was a great cast. Bill Carr, Marla [McLean], John Dunsworth

JW: John Dartt.

SS: Jody Stevens.

JW: Big Cast. A lot of fun.

SS: It was Linda’s last show [as Artistic Director of Neptune].

JW: Oh, wow. And then a few years later in the Studio here we did Sylvia where Stacy played a dog and I played a transgendered man.

AC: I don’t know why I didn’t see THAT.

SS: She wasn’t really a dog. She’s a girl, but… is she dog? Is she a girl? We don’t really know. I loved it; that was a great play.

JW: That was 2002. And that was John Dartt and Jennifer Overton. Directed by Lorne Pardy.

AC: So, Jeremy, when you were writing Fishing, why did you want to write the female parts for Stacy?

JW: Mainly because-

SS: Whispers Because she’s awesome

JW: She’s awesome, yes. Mainly because as I started the process she had actually already emailed me asking, “When are you going to write me a Shakespeare On Trial like you did for Simon Henderson?  And she basically demanded-

SS: I didn’t demand!

JW: In a nice way!

SS: I saw A Christmas Carol and I brought my parents to see it and I saw Shakespeare on Trial when they played in Antigonish and it was so great and so fun and so I said to Jeremy, “It would be so great to have a show like that- to do a show with you like that. You know? I don’t remember that being demanding. I remember it more being exciting and enthusiastic.

JW: It was; it was very positive. Actually, it’s true. That was the initial seed so that when I came up with the concept that it would be a two-hander and that there would only be one actress playing all the roles I thought of Stacy and because we had been roommates and friends for years I knew her voice quite well and so I was able to write with her voice in mind and how I thought she would play the roles.

AC: Did she end up playing them the same way as you had envisioned?

JW: Mostly. But I’m not the director so I have really had to try my best to keep my mouth shut. Which is hard because it’s my company as well and I’m the writer, but I try not to get involved. I don’t tell Simon how to do his role in Shakespeare On Trial. I might make occasional requests as the writer saying, “You know what? Could we look at this moment?” We did one yesterday where I said, “That line would be better as written rather than the line you have ad libbed it into.” But I’m not too precious because I change everything all the time anyway.

SS: No, you say it exactly the same way every night.

JW: Yeah right. If I change a line it’s like, “No, no! I’ve rewritten that! It’s a re-write!” laugh

AC: So, you had Stacy in mind and you knew you needed a lot of different characters to capture her different voices, is that how you came up with the story about Internet dating?

JW: No, that was a separate issue. I had that in the back of my mind. Separate to Stacy, I had come up with an idea to do a show about Internet dating because I had done Internet dating with no luck and so when I came up with the concept of “seven dates in seven days with seven different women” that’s when I said, “Oh, maybe this could be something for Stacy and I to do.” And now here we are.

AC: Stacy, what is it like playing eight different women?

SS: It’s great! It’s a lot of fun.

AC: It looks fun. It genuinely looks like you two are having a great time. Which, I guess is the same as in Shakespeare on Trial. I think there’s something so lovely for an audience just watching two very talented people come together and playing.

JW: That’s the idea! …But is it really fun, Stacy? Or is it very hard?

SS: It’s very hard. Laughs. No, it’s very fun. In the summertime we did a lot of shows and what is a bit difficult is that I don’t have a really big through line as an actor, so sometimes the more you do a show the more you look for different motivators or stories to get you through that performance and with this show, because I play so many different characters, I didn’t really have that. So, I did start to notice that as being a challenge this summer. But, even so, you still have to come up with reasons for why your character is there, what brings them out onstage in that moments, so you still have different things to work with.

JW: The concept of her having to play all those roles was born out of me having done it in Shakespeare on Trial and [A] Christmas Carol and I thought it would be nice to just play one character in one costume and watch someone else do all the work- the costume changing work and the character changing work. Turns out it’s not really any easier, but it is fun to hear Stacy backstage running around-

SS: Um… shouldn’t you be acting!?

JW: No. I’m monitoring what you are doing. I’m wearing my Producer’s hat at that moment.

SS: Remember when you said at the beginning about unhinged? Neurosis? Hmmm.

AC: Hmmmm. Curious. Laughs from all three

JW: I’m an Actor-Manager, what can I say? I’m in the wrong era.

AC: Yeah, you are. I think that it is fun if you are an avid Off The Leash patron to see the roles reversed in Fishing and to be like, “Oh, now Jeremy is playing the Simon Henderson part.” I think there’s a balance. People attending an Off the Leash production tend to come expecting certain elements to be there, but I think they also appreciate when things get shaken up a bit.

JW: I think people who come to see me often like certain elements, they like to see me break the fourth wall, which apparently I do often, or when I do audience participation, which is my signature piece, or when I screw up.. when I hurt myself or fall over or trip up the set. It’s part of it. I really have embraced that philosophy as Off the Leash that, I believe that the play will never stop growing from the first day up until the Closing Night. My stuff is certainly created to allow little breaks because those are the magical moments that the audience will remember. I don’t believe in doing it for the sake of doing it. Having said that, I am a whore for a cheap laugh. I believe in giving people a good time in the theatre. It’s mass entertainment that I want to produce. Is it bad to say that? I want people to have fun. Daniel MacIvor wrote Bingo because he wanted to write a fun play and I’m trying to do the opposite. Someday I am going to write a play that will be totally serious and a drama and maybe I won’t even be in it, but I like the idea of doing the opposite. This is a show for the general public to come and see. This is a show for a group of friends to come to because they know that it’s going to be a comedy about a loser guy going on seven dates in seven days and it’s going to be chaotic. You know what you’re going to get with it. It’s meant to be funny and silly and we sneak in a few little life lessons here or there and there are a few tender moments in there as well- just one or two- and this play, unlike Shakespeare on Trial, doesn’t have a lot of shtick in it. It’s not slapstick play, like Shakespeare on Trial definitely is. Shakespeare on Trial is  a Vaudeville comedy. It is written specifically to be that.

AC: Which makes it more of an actor’s play. There’s a lot of in-jokes for people who are in the theatre business.

JW: Yeah, and there’s a lot of Shakespeare, which we try to do justice to. This is a play for the masses. It’s just meant to be fun. I’ve seen that reflected in the people who are coming to see it, it’s people who don’t always go to the theatre. Which is great.

AC: That IS great.

SS: I also think that real comedy comes out of honest situations and because part of this story comes out of Jeremy’s real life there can be real comedy there because it is based on something that is honest and real.

AC: Jeremy, did you ever take any of your Internet dates to the Shoe Shop?

JW: Pauses to think. No. No. Because that’s one of the dating rules in the show! Never go on a date anywhere near where you live, work or play.

AC: Or where you would know people… or get phone calls.

JW: I actually had one date at the World Tea House just opposite Neptune and that was a mistake. That was actually when I came up with the rule. People were coming in that I knew and they were smiling and nodding at me and I was like “No! Don’t come over here!!”… it was bad.

SS: I think when you go see anything you want to connect with the story, whether it’s in an entertaining way or a dramatic way, so we can do that with actors, with the masses, with all people. That’s a good thing to achieve at the end of the night. If people are laughing and going, “I went through that!” or “I could see that happening.” Then that’s awesome.

AC: I agree. Jeremy, you are doing two very generous things with this run of Fishing. First of all Off the Leash is presenting two other shows here at the Studio November 15th and 16th. Can you talk a little bit about that?

JW: Yeah. There were two nights where I got another gig in the middle of the show and I thought, “Well, because an audience for a show here is of a certain size, maybe I can just keep the rental booking and invite submissions from smaller independent theatre companies that maybe can’t afford the theatre space… I’ll take on the rental space, it’s not going to cost me anymore and we’ll strike a deal where I present these two shows- essentially give them the venue for two nights each- and so that’s what we’re doing. TheatreSpeak [‘s production of [title of show] and Once Upon a Theatre Collective [‘s According to Plan] are both presenting a piece each for two nights in the second week of our run. Which is very exciting. They’ll get to come in, they have four hours  of tech rehearsal and then they’ll do their show.

SS: We saw [title of show] back in May-

JW: Yes. I really liked it. And then they applied- we had about half a dozen theatre companies apply- and we had a little jury and we chose these two. It’s hard as a small, indie theatre company to be seen, so if this in any way gets people to see their shows and to see what they can do, then that’s great.

SS: It’s great to have it for two nights too because then they can really promote it.

AC: I also think that because you have such a strong brand with Off the Leash even being associated as under the umbrella of your company is helpful for smaller, independent companies as well.

JW: We’ll see! I hope so!

SS: It’s going to be awesome.

JW: I’m hoping that the audience who see Fishing in the first week, will come back to see these two shows in the second week.

AC: Me too. Do you want to talk a little bit about your fundraising efforts for PAL in conjunction with this run of Fishing?

JW: Oh! Yeah! Well, I’m the Chair for PAL Halifax-

AC: Can you explain what PAL is?

JW: PAL is Performing Arts Lodge, a National charity; we have a local chapter here in Halifax. It is an organization dedicated to building affordable, subsidized housing for retiring or aspiring artists who cannot afford certain elements of life. PAL is a charity that will help those artists. I took over as Chair two years ago and we are now at the point where we have a memorandum of understanding with a developer to have twenty units in a building being built on Gottingen Street right next door to the Bus Stop Theatre and we’re waiting for that building to be built. When all that approval goes through it will be our job as PAL to fill those units with artists- anyone in the allied industries- who needs help. We do a fundraiser every year called Scrabble with the Stars and this year we decided to make that every other year and from now on we will be looking for a performance piece that will be the fundraiser for the year. So, this year I donated the last performance of Fishing, on the 18th in the evening. So it costs the same to come see the show, but all the money goes to PAL and there’s raffles and 50/50 draws and all the money is going to a really good cause rather than my bank account. Tickets are on sale at Palhalifax.org, it’s $25.00 and actually cheaper than booking through Neptune’s website because there are no processing fees.

SS: They just got a house at PAL Stratford on Brunswick Street and it is beautiful. So it can be achieved!

AC: That’s exciting. I love it.

Fishing plays at Chester Playhouse (22 Pleasant Street, Chester, Nova Scotia) July 31st-August 3rd 2013 at 8:00pm with a 2:00pm matinee August 3rd. Tickets are $18.00-$28.00 and are available by visiting this website, or calling 902.275.3933 or toll free 1.800.363.7529 or visiting the Box Office at 22 Pleasant Street in Chester, Nova Scotia.

Interview re-posted from November 2012.  

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