Plan to Attend: Kristin Slaney & Jessica Barry Talk Slaneypalooza

jessica barry & kristin slaney

Once Upon a Theatre Collective, in association with Off The Leash, is presenting According To Plan: Four Short Plays by Halifax based playwright Kristin Slaney at the Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre tonight November 15th, 2012 and Friday, November 16th, 2012 at 7:00pm. I sat down with Slaney, along with two of her fellow actors, Jessica Barry and Griffin McInnes at Own Space in the Dalhousie Theatre Department to chat about their upcoming show.

Amanda Campbell (AC): Originally Once Upon a Theatre Collective was slated to produce Kristin’s new play Poem for the Smallest Boy, but you had to change your plans unexpectedly because of some issues with the Canadian Actors’ Equity rules, is that right? Can you tell us a little bit about what happened?

Kristin Slaney (KS): It’s been a crazy month. Once Upon a Theatre Collective had been rehearsing a show, a play that I wrote called Poem for the Smallest Boy, which was chosen by Jeremy Webb and his production company Off the Leash for his Off The Leash Presents Project. We were given two nights of [Neptune] Studio [Theatre] time and we were chosen along with [title of show], TheatreSpeak’s production. We were picked for that and we started rehearsing and getting stuff together. This was the first time that Once Upon a Theatre Collective has tried to engage two Equity artists: Sherry Smith and Mauralea Austin. Mauralea was in the cast, Sherry was directing and Jessica [Barry] and Glen [Matthews] were both going to be acting as well. So, this was the first time that we had to look into the Equity business and so we started to try to work with them but then every barrier that could be put in front of us was put in front of us and the Union (which exists for a reason and we are all supportive of that), in this instance, wasn’t in line with what the artists wanted in this case. So many roadblocks were put in our way that it actually made it impossible for us to do the show. We could have recast and re-directed it, but I think we had gotten to the point in the process that we didn’t want to just throw something together. We wanted to do the work justice, I think.

Jessica Barry (JB): It’s a really great play.

KS: Well… thank you. We didn’t want it to be a rushed thing thrown up for the sake of having these two nights of Studio time, so we figured we would postpone the play until the Spring, when we will regroup and get our ducks in the proverbial row and then we’ll come back out swinging again.

AC: Is the plan to do it in the Spring with the cast as originally intended?

 KS: That’s something that we have to keep looking at, as the time frame changes it depends on if the artists are all available.

AC: But more time will give you more leniency with Equity?

KS: I think, yes. Also, we had been approaching this whole thing without any funding at all, so planning for the play in the Spring means that there is time to get that stuff in order. So, that’s what happened with that.

JB: I also think that it’s a sign that Once Upon a Theatre Collective is growing that now we have had this first experience with Equity and we are learning from it, and we definitely want to work with these new artists and to continue to learn from each other. Hopefully this whole experience will take us as a company to another level.

AC: All small companies have to deal with these things as they grow, absolutely. So, you have changed your tactics and decided to do something completely different. So, what is your new plan of action?

KS: I had a number of short plays, some of them had been done for Once Upon a Theatre Collective’s Short Play Night and I added a few sort of from my pocket. There’s something about our Short Play Nights where we miss having the opportunity to spend real rehearsal time on them and polish them, and so we realized that this could be an opportunity to approach some of the these short plays again. It’s completely different than Poem for the Smallest Boy because most of these plays are comedies. They all fall under this idea of “Things Not Quite Going According to Plan,” which we thought was an apt theme given the whole situation. It’s something I feel like people know about. So there are four short plays, a core group of four actors: me, Jessica Barry, Glen Matthews and we asked Griffin McInnes on to the project and each of us is directing one of the projects as well.

AC: I kind of like it because I feel like Jeremy has been very generous and sort of given a Studio Space slot to his audience, or the audience that attends Neptune Studio Shows to say, “This also exists!” It’s really cool in this case because Once Upon a Theatre Collective does its Evening of Short Plays on a regular basis at the Bus Stop Theatre and it’s neat to use this opportunity that Off the Leash has given you to promote something that is an ongoing theatre event in Halifax. You’re not just introducing the audience to Once Upon a Theatre Collective as a company, which is important, or Kristin Slaney as a playwright, which is also very important, but you’re also saying “If you liked this, you can come and see this very similar thing again at this other theatre, where you may have never been before. This theatre also exists! These artists also exist!”

KS: I think that is one of the cool things about this project is that we do so much of our work at the Bus Stop and we are going to continue to do our work at the Bus Stop, but Jeremy has given us the opportunity to show a new audience, “Guess what happens on Gottingen Street sometimes!” And it would be great if we could bring some of those people back to our venue too.

AC: Yes. So, Kristin, you are acting in your own plays and directing one of your own plays. So, what is it like directing your own work versus allowing someone else direct it?

KS: It’s very strange. It’s interesting because for Poem for the Smallest Boy I was very adamant that I didn’t want to direct it.

AC: You had done that one before, yes?

KS: Yes. I did a workshop of it through the Dalhousie University Playwright’s Cabaret last year. And I did direct it because I was kind of interested in giving it a first pass as a director. But when it came to reviving the project I was very interested in seeing what someone else, who wasn’t in the brain of the play, would find. Sherry was finding all this awesome new stuff, which I really want to see the light of day.

JB: The rehearsals were a really amazing experience. I know I learned a ton and I know I was so happy to have the experience and I’m really excited to work on it again. I workshopped the first version with Kristin, which was great, and it’s really neat to see the difference in the first workshop with Kristin and then the three weeks of rehearsal we did do with the project-

KS- That was like three drafts later as well…

JB: It was really interesting and really exciting. So, I will get to see it again another time, which is unexpected and not according to plan, but not necessarily a bad thing.

KS: It’s an interesting thing and a humbling thing in general both acting in and directing your own work because it forces you to see things from a different perspective and to be like, “Oh! Shit! That doesn’t work!” “Why did I not say this whole line in four words instead of like, twenty?” It’s another approach to thinking about playwriting; throwing yourself in the shit and seeing what happens.

AC: Yes. Jessica, what is it like being directed by the playwright of the piece? Is it different?

JB: Yes. It is different. There’s also so many dynamics in this project as well, the fact that it’s being directed by the playwright, it’s being directed by my best friend, it’s being directed by a fellow company member, it’s being directed by my roommate, so it’s really different. It’s even more different. There’s a million lines of communication. In some ways it lets me slack off as an actor because I can just ask the playwright, but it also gives me huge bonuses as an actor as well and some insight to the playwright.

AC: Sure, yes. Sometimes you really do wish you could be like, “Yo, Shakespeare. What exactly were you going for here? What’s up with this line?” It’s always nice when you can be like, “Oh! Hey, playwright! You’re still alive! Here you are!” (laughter)

KS: Also, sometimes the answer is, “I don’t know. I think I want to change that.”

AC: Absolutely. Jessica, you are also directing, what is that like for you?

JB: Scary! (laughs) The last time I directed was the first time we did 11:11, which I also co-wrote and was in, so I wasn’t really directing, it was just being there. (laughs). Yeah. It was scary. It is scary. I’m directing Kristin and Griffin in a really adorable piece. They are really charming; the words are very charming. Hopefully I didn’t ruin it. (laughs).

Griffin McInnes (GM): You directed it very well.

JB: I actually have a finger injury from how much I bit my nails the first time that we sat down to do it. Scary. Really scary. (laughs)

AC: So, Griffin, you are directing one of the plays too. What’s that been like for you?

GM: It’s been fun. Once Upon a Theatre Collective was nice enough to invite me onto the project and when you have the company all working in various different roles, it can be messy, it can be nuts, but the room is really positive and fun. I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries, but they have been very open and warm and nice.

AC: Can you give people a sense of what to expect from these four plays?

KS: They are 6-10 minute plays. They are all variations on a theme of things not going according to plan: Marriage proposals, the Holidays, your general life plans and first impressions in dating. We have four plays and some surprises. Glen and I are in one called The Proposal Game. Fuck Ups, which has been at Short Play Night before, Arthur and Amelia, which focuses on first impressions, trying to connect with somebody and something sort of going awry and something still rising from that chaos. And then Holly Jolly Winter Solstice: when your holidays go up in flames.

AC: It sounds like you have this huge collection of plays that you have written, which is amazing. It’s great that you keep having these Short Play Nights because it must keep you churning out new work.

KS: That’s how I first started writing. The Short Play Night gives you the opportunity to have people watching the plays and you see things so differently when you’re watching with an audience. As soon as you start watching it through their eyes, a new perspective makes you go, “Oh! Shit! That doesn’t play and that doesn’t play” or “Oh, that’s a joke. I didn’t know that was a joke. Great!” It’s an interesting challenge. And a ten minute play is a nice baby steps up to a longer, full-length play.

AC: I feel like when we met I saw you as more of an actor, but now I definitely see you more as a playwright.

KS: Yeah, I feel like that is where my focus has shifted.

JB: We have a Short Play Night coming up!

KS: It’s called Once Upon Apocalypse.

JB: It’s going to be on December 21st. The End of the World.

AC: Oh right! Good.

JB: Everyone should come hang out with us on the last night of the World.

KS: It’s going to be an assortment of Apocalypse and Holiday themed plays.

JB: The submission deadline for plays is Thursday, November 22. It’s coming up soon. Ten minutes. Low tech. No more than four people in a cast.

KS: Poem For the Smallest Boy will be coming up in the Spring.

AC: You are just building anticipation for this play. This is all just an elaborate rouse to build its momentum and get us all fired up about it. I see what’s going on here.

GM: The big ole’ Equity cock block. (laughter)

JB: Yes. … And I think we are all very grateful to Jeremy for giving us this opportunity. He is so successful in all the theatre business that he does and I’m really looking forward to being in the Studio and sharing these plays with an audience.

According to Plan plays at the Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street) tonight November 15th, 2012 and Friday, November 16th, 2012 at 7:00pm. Tickets are being sold through the Neptune Theatre Box Office either by phone (902.429.7070), online or in person at the box office at 1593 Argyle Street). Tickets are $20.00 (adults), $15.00 (Students, Seniors, Arts Workers) and adults purchasing tickets to both According To Plan and TheatreSpeak’s [title of show]  will receive a discount of $5.00 off each ticket**(offer not available online – call Neptune Theatre 902.429.7070 or visit in person at the box office)** For more information please visit this website. 

For more information about Canadian theatre artists calling for a re-imagined relationship with Equity that allows for independent theatre artists to make their own work with more freedom and leniency please read this great article via the Praxis Theatre Website

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