“You Can’t Tell It’s Doomed Until You Do It” – Mistakes Were Made

This article is part of an ongoing expose on “Mistakes Were Made” premiering August 20th at Mainline. Buy tickets here.

(Original Journal Entry from January 23rd, 2014)

I’ve decided to keep a journal about my time working on Mistakes Were Made. It’s the first time I’ve done this but I feel like it’s something I should do. Maybe because it’s a bit of a lonely project. There won’t be many group rehearsals and the way I’m developing it, I don’t expect there to be much companionship until near the end.
I guess I should first talk about why I picked this project for myself, because at this point it’s just something creative for me to start working on. I still have no idea how it will ever see an audience.
I found Mistakes Were Made at the Drama Book Shop in New York City early in 2013. I read it in one sitting, laughing out loud which is something I rarely do. I felt like the play had been written for me in a way, as it exaggerated many of the truths I’ve encountered over the past decade producing content for Brave New Productions. While every element of the play is heightened (as it should be), the main character was instantly relatable.
While I loved the piece, I also knew I wouldn’t be working on it any time soon. The character I wanted to play had such a tremendous amount of dialogue, I could barely imagine what the task of memorizing it would be like. Secondly, I felt audiences would expect him to be older. I remember one reviewer who came to see ‘ART’ complained that she felt men of my age would never be in the situation of buying such highly priced art and affording anything as nice as our set (which was extremely ironic as all of set furniture was purchased at IKEA). I thought that her opinion was fairly closed-minded, but I know better than to argue feelings with logic. Yes, I’ve been producing theatre since I was twenty. Felix could be me, and he is, but an audience might have a hard time seeing that.
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So I tucked Mistakes Were Made on a shelf and went on to produce “Standing On Ceremony”, “Christmas Shorts”, “Brave New Comedy” and “Done To Death’.
January’s performance of “Done To Death” is a huge factor as to why I’m picking up Mistakes Were Made now. That show had a huge cast and a huge set, but really that was just the icing on the cake. The reality is – drama (and not the theatrical kind) has exhausted me and all but eradicated the sense of family I feel is so crucial to our company. I’ve told everybody I was taking a break, and I am, but that break is for me to get away from the headaches. The idea of slowly working on Mistakes Were Made, which is mostly a one-man show, sounds like a bit of a vacation in some ways.
The script has been constantly on my mind for a year. The moment I read it, I wanted to do it. That’s rare for me. There’s usually at least one part of a script that I don’t connect with, but with Mistakes, I feel at one with the story all the way through. And why shouldn’t I? I’ve played this character in real life for the past ten years with Brave New Productions. Swindling, swaying and trying to make it happen – Felix is real to me because he is me. Even his relationship troubles are relatable to me, though I’ve been able to manage my focus a tad more successfully than he has. Felix and I aren’t the same in one way – and that is how we see our past projects. I am extremely proud of every show I’ve produced, and regardless of any reviews, consider them all to be successes. Felix, on the other hand, is looking for a hit.
In many ways, as a performer, I don’t know if I’m ready for this gargantuan text – and I haven’t even memorized one page of dialogue yet. I don’t know if I’m ready for the challenge of supporting an entire show. I feel it’s in me, sure, but I have met so many talented people over the years who I suspect might be able to carry the show even better. I know I can’t rely on charm and enthusiasm on this one and to be honest, I don’t want to. I want to have fun, but I’d like to touch the audience too.
The funny thing is I still don’t know when I’m going to do it. Or where. Or with who. I don’t even know if it will be a Brave New Production at this point. It feels selfish to even ask the company to support such a one person focused show. I just know I want to make it happen, and I want to work harder than I’ve ever worked before to make this the best performance I’ve ever given. It will be a lot of work, so I hope there will be many performances though the small cast (equals small turnout) would make that a financial logistic problem.
So I don’t have a finish line. That’s fine.
The title has another purpose for me, it’s an honest confession – with the company I’ve founded and (to be perfectly honest) my own career. Mistakes have been made. Plenty. And I’ve made them. I take full ownership of that. That’s why some of these moments – though it’s mostly hilarious – speak real truth with me and I don’t want to show this to anyone before I’m able to show my real emotions. This is, by far, the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I hope I’m not learning these lines for nothing.

The Women of “Talking Cock”

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Yes, it’s shocking – maybe even offensive…and that’s just the tagline. I mean, when you say “Man’s answer to the Vagina Monologues” you’re inviting scorn from theatre lovers who adore that piece, especially when your ‘answer’ is straight-up stand-up comedy littered with dick jokes- but then again, to us the show has been so much more.

When we decided to bring Richard Herring’s “Talking Cock” to Montreal we knew there would be some amount of controversy. That wasn’t the reason we picked the show. Actually, in the 11 years I’ve run Brave New Productions I’ve never picked a show for the sake of controversy – but Brave New Comedy is a different adventure. Brave New Comedy is an exploration of laughter and joy, taking the convention of traditional stand-up and infusing elements rarely seen in the standard open mic night. I’ve never picked a script I didn’t believe in – and that is also true of “Talking Cock”. Originally a monologue, I felt the text had the opportunity to offer perspective, voice and heart – as well as a plethora of dick jokes and pseudonyms.

What some might be surprised to know is that the show is nearly entirely run by women behind the scenes.

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Taking a one man show and dissecting it into four different voices was something that had to be done very carefully while at the same time we had to keep an eye on not letting the show become overworked.” says Tracy Allan, the woman who went from assistant director to co-director of the project. She was immediately faced with the challenge of casting this unique presentation that faced theater-like rehearsals but stand-up style performances, “Taking two different kinds of performers (actors and comedians) and asking them to completely smash open their comfort zones was tough at times. Actors understand having a director but some aren’t use to losing the fourth wall. Comedians have the amazing ability to read an audience but they aren’t used to working with a script . How do you change years of learned behavior in three months while still letting them have room to explore and bring there own talents to the process? It was interesting and lucky for us that our boys are great and trusted us. In the end, I really had to learn how to walk the line of giving too much freedom and over directing.”

It doesn’t stop with Tracy. The show’s event & fundraiser planner, Claudia Laprise, worked tirelessly to secure sponsors such as Fugues Magazine and Priape as well as promote fundraising events and advertising. Her efforts helped Talking Cock quickly rise to be one of the Montreal Gazette’s Top 12 shows to see at the Festival.

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Behind the scenes, producer Laura Vizbara juggled the challenge of satisfying both the Fringe Festival requirements as well as the shows unique burlesque lounge venue (The Wiggle Room), “Donald sent me a message asking for my help in finding a venue for Richard Herring’s Talking Cock, the show BNP’s daughter company Brave New Comedy was bringing to North America for the first time. I had my reservations about producing the show, due to the nature of the material, but a favor made creates a favor to be returned at a later date, so I made some calls and found a home for it at The Wiggle Room. I couldn’t be happier with the result.” Luckily for Laura, all her reservations appeared unnecessary and opening night was an unexpected surprise, “I suspected our audience would consist of rowdy 18-21 year olds out to heckle and be heckled, but I was wrong. We had a lot of couples come in, groups of friends on a night out, and a fair number of men and women in the golden age, several of whom mentioned to me on their way out how much they enjoyed the format!”

Isabelle Tremblay, the technical director for Brave New Productions shares in that feeling of surprise, “I expected more men would come to see the show because I didn’t think women would connect to the play. But to my surprise, lots of women show up every night and seem to want to participate even more than men.  I think maybe they finally have that insight into the man’s “brain” that they’ve always wanted!”

The joy (and heartache) of the Fringe is found in the time a show has to prepare in their space before performing in front of an audience, a burden that seems to fall more heavily on comedy based shows that often need time to feel out their beats and rhythms. Talking Cock never had that chance and stumbled before becoming the show it is today. “As far as the media goes, I haven’t read many reviews because I don’t care.” Tracy responds, “I understand the role a critic plays in the equation that is art but its does not value or devalue the experience for me as a director.”

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Following that opening night chaos, word of mouth quickly spread through the festival praising Talking Cock’s content as well as the strong performances and the piece now proceeds to sell out nightly.  The show has been extremely well received and I know that just by the audiences reaction every night.” Tracy says, “The most important part of this show is the heart of the message, not the dick jokes and every show, every night, we have to take the audience there. That is the pay off of doing this show, knowing we succeeded in making them laugh and making them feel something.”

The huge success of Talking Cock has humbled Laura as well, “I think the show has enjoyed such a great reception because it has been put together and performed with such good nature. We’re not trying to change anyone’s mind or lambast what we feel are today’s misguided social taboos. We just want everyone who comes to spend an hour of their time with us to enjoy that hour. Should we succeed in helping lower a few inhibitions here and there would just be the cherry on the sundae of this wonderful adventure.”

In one fell swoop, Brave New Comedy has landed prominently on the Montreal events page with a show that is both hilarious and unconventional and though Talking Cock may feature four (mostly) straight men on stage, the magic of the piece is that it became a huge success due to the hard work of a strong team of women.

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