Bell and Craig Chat About Contemporary Musical Theatre on the Edge

On a beautiful, crisp fall Sunday, I got the chance to sit down with Jordan Bell and Eric Craig, two of the very young, very talented and very funny stars of Acting UpStage’s production of Edges which opens on Monday October 20th, 2008 at Revival Bar. We met up at a busy Starbucks on Queen Street West just before the guys headed off to one of their last rehearsals before Opening Night.

Amanda Campbell: So, to begin, Edges, if I remember correctly starts with the words, “I’m nineteen and male, I play squash and racquetball. I have an allergy to grapefruit and tomatoes. My sister goes to Yale, I screwed Jen from down the hall over Spring Break in a beach house in Barbados.” Can you both give me “trimmed up” bios of yourselves? They don’t have to rhyme.

Eric Craig (EC) [to Jordan]: Make it rhyme.

Jordan Bell (JB): I’m 23 and male. I sing and dance for money. laughs I have an addiction to Starbucks breakfast sandwiches. Laughs. Hm… it’s really awkward if I say who I screwed from down the hall… um, I’m an only child laughs who’s been single for too long with no vacation. … It’s not as witty as it ought to have been… And now Eric! Yours should be wittier than mine because you’ve had time to think about it. What’s your little song in the show?

EC: You don’t know? Thanks for listening.

JB: I’m busy typing on my laptop.

EC: The song in the show goes, “I was popular in school, I live West of Central Park, I have a law degree but I watch TV instead. My car is out of fuel, I still get scared of the dark, and every second Monday I skip work to stay in bed.” Uhhh… okay- I would say, I was not popular in school-

JB: You weren’t?

EC: Well no, I mean, I wasn’t the guy sitting alone in the corner knitting…

JB: Not like today?

EC: It’s cold today. But I wasn’t THE GUY. I’m the oldest one in the cast by far.

JB: Not by far.

EC: Yes, I am. You are the second oldest.

JB: I am? Oh. I used to be the baby.

EC: *I* used to be the baby.

JB: Where do you live?

EC: I live… north of Central Park.

JB: You sure do.

EC: And… and, and I don’t go a day without eating bacon.

JB: That’s disgusting.

EC: It’s not disgusting. And my coffee addiction is absolutely crippling. If I go a couple days without coffee I have a headache and can’t function. … I don’t think I structured that in verse. Yours was better, and I had more time.

AC: No, that was good. Good job. So, you did this show last year at around the same time. What was the most appealing aspect for you about reviving Edges?

EC: I just love the material. I missed the songs. We only got three shows last time…

JB: Yeah, the material- Benj and Justin have kept working on it, so they are keeping on making it relevant, which is so exciting!

EC: It’s not common for a show like this to be so relevant, and current and speaking to our generation.

JB: And the people. I missed the people. The four of us in the cast get along so well. We have this great connection. It seems cheesy to say, but we actually really do hang out and get along so great. Rehearsals are just… retarded.

EC: It’s so rare to have a show where everyone connects. That never happens. But Sara [Farb] and Gabi [Epstein], when they started this project last year, they got to decide who they wanted to work with.

JB: Yeah, but still, neither of us had met Sara, and now I talk to her daily. It was also a chance to get to come in and work with friends who were all just as into the material, and who are all equally as talented.

AC: What is different about the show this time around?

JB: This time there’s new material… new songs.

EC: Jordan’s gained a lot of weight. Laughs We made fun of you on Sara’s blog.

JB: Oh, I haven’t read it yet.

EC: And the show’s better organized now. It flows better now, it has its own message, it’s not just eighteen individual songs.

JB: I think the story is made clearer by the staging and lighting, and not just sitting on four chairs. There’s staging now!

EC: And you can drink while you watch. Also, we’re a year older. A lot has happened this year. We’re a year more experienced. And we’ve had a year to sit with these songs.

JB: And having known the material for a year… After last year, we all got a bootleg copy of our performance. I have mine on my Ipod. I listen to it every once in a blue moon. The show is about that experience of growing up, and when I hear some of the lyrics, I go “oh- now I have a different point of view.”

EC: I think it means more because last year was such a great experience, and now we have a chance to turn it into something more. We get to explore more territory.

AC: So, can you tell us what you have been doing in the year that you’ve spent away from the show?

JB: Right after Edges I went away to Calgary for three months and since then I’ve been to Stratford, which was a huge career learning curve. Because when you’re working on something at that level with some of those people, they blew my mind- and to see their process and just working with them taught me a lot. It was a big career year. Also, because I was tucked away in Stratford not a lot of other stuff has been going on in my life. But, I’ve grown up a lot in terms of- I’ve always been a boy… and I don’t think that I’m a man…

EC: Are you a “boy with dreams?”

JB: I think I’m more “no longer a boy, not yet a man”

EC: Ah. So you’re not yet “a part of the painting.”

AC: *laughs* Eric?

EC: It’s been a year of a bit of ups and downs. More downs, actually, to be honest. It was a big year of family and a big year of figuring out what is important, and looking back to last year has been a bit emotional because I see how my priorities have shifted so much- so to look and see how much that’s changed…. And it’s been a busy year with work. I was at StageWest for most of the year, and did a random tour after Edges. So between StageWest and spending time with family—

JB: I don’t know about Gabi and Sara, well I think I can speak for them a little bit, to say that I think it was a year for all of us where we discovered what’s important to us.

EC: And what’s not important. The influences that you don’t need in your life. To figure out who are important to you and why. Again, the songs [in Edges] are so relevant to this, and our generation. They are so well-written.

AC: I interviewed Sara and Gabi last year, and we talked about what appealed to them most about the show. But one of my favourite moments in the show is when you guys sing “Pretty Sweet Day” because it’s one of the only musical theatre songs that I think- I can’t say for sure being a girl and all- but I think, seems to adequately and fairly describe what it’s like being a nineteen year old guy. Can you talk about how that song resonates for you?

EC: I like that song. I was telling my sister- we have a brother, named Owen, and I told Johanna that [Pretty Sweet Day] was gonna be Owen’s favourite song, and she was sorta like “yeah, okay, whatever”- and then they came to the show and afterward Owen sorta stops and goes “I really liked the song you sang about the guys and their drinking buddy.” You know, there’s something in that song that speaks to guys who probably don’t go to musical theatre.

JB: That’s how guys talk to each other. And girls talk. They talk about the stupid stuff they do, and the dumb people they sleep with. They ask questions like “what were you thinking taking her home?”

EC: It’s a show about regular people and problems and issues that regular people have. And in that way, it can bring people into the theatre who wouldn’t normally go see musical theatre.

JB: Yeah, it’s not Andrew Lloyd Webber, singing on the barricade, helicopters flying in and showgirls popping out of cars…-

EC: We asked for all that, but we didn’t have the budget.

JB: And Mitchell [Marcus] said no.

AC: Mitchell’s company, Acting UpStage Theatre Company is dedicated to producing contemporary musical theatre productions in Toronto and to reaching out and generating a new audience. Why do you think this is so important?

EC: I think part of the danger that Toronto faces is that there are these enormous companies doing these enormous shows for a standardized audience of theatre patrons. Then there are very, very small companies trying to do shows that are interesting, and there is so little that is the middle of the road, or a bridge to bring the two together. That’s why Acting UpStage is so important because– and why Mitchell is extraordinary– because he is able to do two things at once. On the one hand, he can bring in the people who love theatre, and on the other, he can bring in the people who have never seen theatre, and he offers them something that they can both enjoy. It’s amazing.

JB: He’s a genius.

EC: Because we need to create a new audience. And I know people have been saying that for fifty years, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Especially right now it is so important, when we have a political climate that is not conducive to the arts, we have to create art now that will appeal to audiences across the board.

JB: It’s companies like Acting UpStage that are willing to take risks on something new, something that is not sure to pay off.

EC: Yeah, so many people wouldn’t have picked up Edges because it’s not a sure-fire hit.

JB: But even the sure-fire hits… look at what happened with shows like Hairspray and The Producers…

AC: I agree. Jumping off that point, who are some actors or other artists that you look up to most in the Toronto theatre community?

EC: David Storch for one. Peter Donaldson.

JB: Evan Buliung.

EC: Evan Buliung is a good one. I really like Michael Shara- you don’t see him as much around here, he’s been spending a lot of time at Shaw, but now he’s rehearsing for um… It’s a Wonderful Life at Canstage. Umm… Caroline Cave… Seana McKenna-

JB: I second Seana McKenna.

EC: You know who I love, but you rarely see her outside of Soulpepper, is Nancy Palk.

JB: Morris Panych did this version of Moby Dick at Stratford with no dialogue. I went to see it and I couldn’t catch my breath. It blew my mind.

EC: I’ll go see anything with Diego Matamoros in it. There’s such a long list of people I admire. To list five is to leave out ten.

JB: There is such a wickedly strong community of musical theatre actors that you don’t see in the leads of shows all the time. There are all these triple threats who astound me.

EC: There are just so many.

AC: Eric, last year you were the only Edges cast member who didn’t have Facebook. Since there is a song in the show about Facebook, I was wondering what it was that finally got you to surrender to the Facebook madness?

EC: Well, I guess Katie Grube would have been the cause. I was doing a show with her and she just wouldn’t stop hounding me about it. But also, I spent so much time away from my friends and from the theatre community this year, I felt so disconnected from everybody, and so Facebook helps so much to keep me connected. And now I’m sadly addicted.

AC: We all are. Sara Farb and Gabi Epstein began the Edges initiative last year in attempt to create their own work. What is the most rewarding part of being a young, musical theatre actor in this community?

EC: I think there is a market for it, there is a group of people who are so excited for Edges and the community is so small that you can actually reach those people.

JB: The community is small, and I think, that we have a supportive community. It feels really great to be a part of that community, with the people who are excited for new projects that are out of the norm. And it gives people a bit of hope that we do have a theatre scene here in Toronto…

EC- It reminds people that we have a theatre community that can be mobilized.

JB: Last year we did three shows and they were sold out, and we didn’t really do the show to market it, we just did the show because we wanted to and the theatre community came out in droves. That was amazing. We really felt the love.

EC: Which I guess is why we’re back again this year.

AC: Beyond Edges, what are some other shows that you’re really excited to see this year in Toronto?

EC: I have to get to see Frost/Nixon.

JB: Me too. I’m really excited.

EC: This is far in the future, but Sunday in the Park With George next season at Shaw. I’m excited to see the Canadian cast of Jersey Boys. It’ll be really neat to see our community in that show and the whole rest of the Soulpepper season.

JB: I’m excited for West Side Story at Stratford because you don’t get to see it a lot, and the music is so, so, good. The music and the dancing. Also, Medea with Seana McKenna-

EC: YES! She’s so incredible!!

JB: She’s amazing.

So are Jordan Bell and Eric Craig. You should check them out in Edges. It plays from October 20th, 2008 to November 10th on Sundays at 7pm and Mondays at 8pm at Revival Bar, 783 College Street (at Shaw). For more information visit their website http://www.edgestoronto.com/ and be their friend on the Facebook.

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