WARNING: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

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I feel I need to place a disclaimer out there for those considering seeing our upcoming show “Vanya and Sonia and Marsha and Spike”. 
Theatre comes to life and exists for many reasons and purposes. Every company, every show, every performance has a living, breathing pulse and a function. I suppose that it true of all art as well. You don’t go listen to the symphony for the same reason you throw on your earphones when you’re at the gym. 
Theatre can be a voice for many things, and that’s a good thing. The key is matching the right voice with the right audience. For me, theatre has always been a voice for the imagination. 
So let’s talk about the life and pulse of “Vanya and Sonia and Marsha and Spike”!


This show isn’t about nature or the environment (well, not really). It isn’t about immigration. It’s not about the life experience of a particular ethnicity, minority or gender. It doesn’t tackle any particular political viewpoint. 
What this show is: laughter, fun, joy, entertainment, dazzling comedic performances, fantastic writing, fiction.
We celebrate the joy of theatre with our performances. Theatre is not a movie. In a movie, if a character needs to be a model – you find a model. On stage, those rules don’t have to apply. Casting against type provides delicious opportunities to play and explore. A woman can play a man, can play Beethoven or a dog. Or a fish. Or a young person can embody a character who is 57 years old. 


A show like “Vanya and Sonia and Marsha and Spike” exists to make you smile, laugh, forget your worries and get lost in some live entertainment for a few hours. In many ways it reminds me of our earlier plays, mostly Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” because the show pokes fun at our expectations of each other and our behaviours while offering the chance for some exceptional performances from some of my favorite actors.
Don’t get me wrong. We are very serious about the silly. We work extremely hard to figure out delivery, timing and all the nuances that we can deliver to our audience during our show. Most of the technical processes of putting together a show remain consistent regardless of its purpose or genre. Comedy is very hard sometimes but with this cast it’s joyful hard. We are competitive and take personal pride in our ability to deliver and the rehearsal process has been nothing short of wonderful.
I love how theatre can be so many things to so many people and I am deliriously excited to get this show in front of it’s audience – it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever worked on.
So, you’ve been warned!

Choosing “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and SPIKE” -A time for change

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The very first theatre project I was ever a part of was a ‘theatre of the absurd’ play by Christopher Durang in 1998. Dialogue was exaggerated and characters did things they would never do in real life. It was ridiculous in the best of ways. The second project I worked on was “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov. The family trials, poetic language and forlorn longing of the characters were a gift to learn about. These two shows formed the foundation of my understanding of theatre. What a curious and strange foundational recipe.

Five years ago, I read the script for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and loved it immediately. I wanted to do it with my current cast of actors. I dreamed it would take place right after “Here’s To Love'”. Oh, the plans I had…Jen would play Masha! Dave would play Spike! Unfortunately (or fortunately), I couldn’t get permission to do the show and other projects started to line up.

It was only five years ago but – man – things worked differently back then.

Back then we would just pick a show for the fun of it and rehearse for the sake of rehearsing, casting our friends, figuring out the performance date later. There was no plan or grand scheme. I wasn’t really thinking big picture, just how I could get everyone together and be creative. Again, it feels like a lot longer than five years ago but the calendar doesn’t lie. Things have changed quickly over the past five years, and while they’re about to change again, this next show almost serves as an ode to what we’ve accomplished up until now. There’s change in the air for the company and this show is a fitting end chapter to a certain way of doing things we’ve enjoyed for the past five years.

What’s the change? Well, for one, all of our company members are taking a more active role in preparing a season for next fall. The content, the funding – all of it is in their hands, which is very different from anything we’ve done before. Different and wonderful.

We have played 20 shows in 5 years. That’s absolutely incredible to me. As I look back at them and try to find the thread that connects them, I have to think hard. There’s a lot of variety. What do they all have in common? I guess the answer, in many ways, is me. I don’t mean that selfishly. In fact the only reason any of these shows happened was because of the hard work and dedication of the company and a few particularly motivated members who’ve been it’s guiding light over the years, In many ways t’s been their energy and enthusiasm that constantly inspired me to pick a next show and push it forward to opening night.

Looking back at the variety on display, I find the next question hard to answer: How did you pick ’em? Given the insane variety of the past five years, it’s a very good question.

Ultimately it comes down to doing what you want to do. What you really want to do. Deep down. Because if at the heart of it all, you aren’t doing what you want to do, you’ll never do it well or breathe life into it. Brush away the meetings, the strategy, the constant apparent need to be clever or relevant. What is it I want to do? Why am I doing this? I haven’t focused on what will sell tickets, please reviewers or investors – which has probably been a factor in why our growth has been slow, but steady and long-lasting.

In the end, all of that artifice is not a valid reason to spend time stressing out, distracted from my family, spending money I could be investing on memories at home. In the end I have to stand by my decisions and when I choose a project, I choose it for no reason other than I want to do it and it sounds fun. Is that shallow or vein? No, it’s just different – and the world should be kinder to the different.

What sounds fun? The story? The people I’ll be working with? The challenge? Sometimes it’s all of those things and sometimes it’s none of them, and while I’ve enjoyed trying out different things over the years, i know that I’ve felt my happiest when I’m making people smile and laugh, either through my performances or the performances of those I’m directing. Smiles. Laughter. Joy. That is the heart of what I’ve tried to do with Brave New Productions.

I think our portfolio is one of the most honest artist statements out there. The shows I’ve pushed forward have had no filter or committee approval. Yes, they’ve had guidance at times and encouragement ( sometimes very vocal, in both regards) but no one has ever defied my passion for the next show. If you want to understand me as an artist, just take a look at the past five years. You’ll see where my values lie. Unfiltered. Smiles. Laughter. Joy.

No, not every show has been a riotous laugh show (see: The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later) but those less comedic projects have arisen from a very natural place of experimentation. As we’ve pushed ourselves and grown in every direction over the years, that has only helped strengthen the core of what we do, reinforced our confidence in our ability to have some fun with the audience.

The time has finally come to bring Brave New Productions back into the world of theatre of the absurd, a place it feels like it was incepted in and hasn’t returned to in far too long.

Our company is at its best when it deals with the weird. From puppet fish in a tank to changing the language of a play midway or substituting actors for tech during a particularly climactic scene. The absurd isn’t that strange these days and our company mission has become more about allowing our audience (and artists) to enjoy theatre as an escape and less about pursuing a particular agenda, lesson or angle. Again, it’s not a shallow mission, just different.

I have always had very limited interest in the business of theatre, perhaps that has reflected itself in my inability to balance a book. As we’ve grown, I’ve had to wrap my head around the business of art and, more often than not, I stick my head in the sand and just focus on making the show happen. It’s been an imperfect ride for sure and I’m responsible for plenty of mistakes along the way.

With Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, I will be closing the door on five years of personally financially producing our shows and I look forward to what our new company board puts together in the future. It’s an exciting time, as we make decisions and determine the fate of the company together. The same people that have inspired me to push forward with the projects we’ve done are the safest hands to steer the company into the future. I’ve had my time but what we do together can be infinitely more powerful and successful as we combine our knowledge and imagination towards a bright and exciting future.

These guys have great taste.

TICKETS FOR VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE ARE ON SALE NOW WITH PERFORMANCES DEC 8-11 AT MONTREAL IMPROV. MORE DETAILS AT HTTP://WWW.BRAVENEWPRODUCTIONS.COM

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Things I learned Dog-Sitting

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I recently dog-sat and, as always, I feel it’s important to impart my wisdom. I love dogs and whales. They’re my two favourite animals. I’m sure one day I’ll get the opportunity to whale sit but for the time being I will just pass along some tips to you future dog-sitters!


– Don’t actually sit on the dog. Yes, it’s a good way to keep an eye on them but I don’t think they like it. They squirm a lot and it’s uncomfortable. I should have learned from my mistake when I used to babysit.

– Its important to maintain the dogs schedule. They should eat and go for walks at similar times to when their masters are home. In case you’re unfamiliar with the masters habits, you should monitor their behaviour for weeks by overseeing them from the outside. Preferably use binoculars and an unmarked vehicle in order to not arouse their suspicions thereby altering the behaviour you intend on studying.

– Use the poop bag to pick up the dog poop. It is not necessary to pick up the dog pee in the same way and attempting to do so will just waste your time.

– Play with the dog! Dogs love it when you play games with them. In my experience they’re not great at them though. I played several games of chess with my dogs and they only won 1 out 3.


You’re welcome!

Chapters & Stages

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I was wondering what it would be that would make me cry. It usually doesn’t take much, but as we packed up the items from our condo, nothing seemed to make me overly sad. I was beginning to think that maybe I wasn’t going to. Maybe I’d matured, become emotionally stronger over the years.

Then this.

I decided to throw away an old piece of luggage and as I walked away from it, I looked back and completely lost it. That piece of luggage sitting in the garbage triggered the rest of my emotions and quickly I became an emotional mess.

The adventures we’d had together! The things we’d seen!

Buying your first home is a big step. Who knew that selling your first home feels just as big?

It can be scary and sad. If you let it be. For me, it’s important to frame moments properly. Take stock of the good and bad. Consider the context. How have the past six years shaped up? 

Six years ago we moved back to Montreal from Calgary and embarked on a new adventure. Living downtown, being around family, and restarting the little theatre group I’d left behind when I left the province. That last one ended up becoming a much bigger part of my life than either of us expected and its something I’ll have to strike a better balance with in the future.

Life in our downtown condo has been nothing like our quiet life in Calgary. It’s been busy, energetic and …busy. Did I say busy? I also want to say chaotic. The two words sometimes feel interchangeable. Theatre has kept me busy, not just in terms of my time but in terms of my finances and in terms of my social life. I’ve made some amazing friends these past few years but I’ve also missed the quiet life the two of us had in Calgary. Our schedules and commitments were more balanced between us whereas here, it’s been a challenge.

So now, as the papers get signed and the movers take away our furniture, I can be sad for a lot of things, sure. I can be sad that this chapter is over. And It’s been a great chapter. A lot of good. A lot of bad also. A lot of growth. 

In the end, we aren’t moving because we are bored of how life is.

We are moving because we are ready.

We are ready to take the best of what we’ve learned to love so far in life and in our relationship and adventure forward into what we believe will make us happy as we start the next chapter together. 

We want to take the best of chapter one (closeness, comfort, quiet), mix it with the best of chapter two (family, friends, adventure) and add some new elements while continuing to improve ourselves personally. I keep learning a lot about myself and my shortcomings and I’m determined to not settle into them as I get older. 

So, yeah, I could be sad and I will be sad but I will look forward to what I believe is the path I’m on ; take the lessons, take the best, know more about what you love and what you don’t – and then build on that foundation to make what’s next even better than anything that’s come before.

 

I am lucky. Incredibly lucky. To have someone beside me who feels the same way. Who grows with me and makes my story rich with laughter, love and memories that make me smile when I’m alone. Who challenges me to not settle with myself or my shortcomings and who believes in my ability to become better with each passing day.

Goodbye to the view – hello to the new! Here we goūüėČ

PS. I went back to grab the red stuicase. I figured it had been my companion on so many trips it deserved one final transatlantic cruise type travel adventure!

Bright Half Life & The Importance Of Supporting The New

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Every show I’ve produced has been a step and a lesson. I’m a strong believer that if we find lessons in our experiences, good or bad, they help us to become stronger and wiser. Over the years those lessons have allowed Brave New Productions to become the creative, resourceful and passionate company that it is today.

Lessons come from opportunities and we’ve discussed the idea of supporting emerging artists and companies for awhile now. We would never have been able to grow without kindness and generosity from our peers and we feel it’s important to pass that on.

When I sat down with Amanda Goldberg from We Are One, I clearly saw a passionate theatre enthusiast, fresh out of school and eager to get to work. The script for “Bright Half Life” felt like a good chance to extend an opportunity. I had always envisioned the piece as a work of movement, performance driven and stripped bare of any technical requirements. 

Creating opportunity is a nice idea but too often results in micro-management. Striking a balance is a challenge, but not impossible. Our team collaborated on casting and ultimately selected fresh, young actors who, similar to We Are One, are just now emerging onto the Montreal theatre scene. Shanti Gonzales and Kelly O’toole are dedicated, talented performers who have tackled the challenge of a story told out of time and out of order and have impressed me with their commitment and professionalism. 

It’s inspiring.


After that, we stepped back and allowed this small team to create the show they wanted to make. We didn’t dabble or stick our hand in the pot. We made ourselves available, offering guidance and recommendation but never insisting.

What I never expected was that the experience would become a massive lesson for myself and Brave New Productions. Watching a new, young company create has allowed us to see our own process with fresh eyes. We’ve seen new, dazzling approaches that have surprised and inspired us and we’ve also realized there’s a lot that we take for granted that we’ve grown into over the years. Over time, we’ve refined our values, our skills and shorthand with each other. We’ve learned how to speak to each other and to understand our expectations and the boundaries of our roles. These are things we’ve learned and that we will continue to learn more about. We don’t have all the answers. Not yet. Not by a long shot.

That has been the magic of “Bright Half Life” and it’s turned into a wonderful show, that has evolved beyond the pitch, into something that is no longer just the idea in my head, but the ideas and execution of a whole new set of talented artists who are ready to share their passion and talent with Montreal.

Donald’s Summer Playlist

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If I am known for anything, it is my incredible taste in music. As summer is now fully upon us and in full-swing (in fact, perhaps, half-over) I have come to the rescue to give you my bonafide musical recommendations. I figure if President Obama has a summer playlist to share, so should I.

01. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – CAN’T STOP THE FEELING

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Yes, I find Justin Timberlake extremely annoying. He’s extremely talented but can’t seem to pick just one skill which is very irritating. He’s a great singer, dancer and actor – but dude, pick one. This is the first Justin Timberlake song with some pep to it – possibly as it’s produced by Max Martin (who has made every famous pop song from the past 100 years). It’s the Blurred Lines ¬†Uptown Funk ¬†song of the summer!

02. DNCE – CAKE BY THE OCEAN

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Is it a metaphor? Does Cake mean something? Or is this song a literal celebration of enjoying pastry in a seaside setting? ¬†Either way, I can appreciate the sentiment. Lyrics include “I’m tired of all this candy on the dry land” which I think we can all agree is a real problem these days.

03.  MIKE POSNER РI TOOK A PILL IN IBIZA

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Oh the catchiness but such deceptively vague lyrics. What was the pill? Was it a Tylenol? What does Avicii think of the song? How do you ride the bus Mike Posner – apparently you do it in a very uncomfortable way that people shouldn’t envy.

04. BRITNEY SPEARS – MAKE ME (OHHHH)

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Britney came to save the summer with this mid-tempo song that leaves things quite open ended. Is she looking for someone to make her Orange Juice? Oatmeal? We may never know but the mystery plays second fiddle to the catchy tune.

05. GAME OF THRONES THEME

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Just to help you feel empowered as you get dressed in the morning. You haven’t lived until you’ve put on your socks to this epic score. It will lead you into your day ready to conquer new lands and people.

Well – there’s my list internet! Extremely comprehensive. Every summer song you need to know about! You’re welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

Shut Up And Drive – The Story of a Montreal Non-Driver

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I don’t know how to drive.

I mean, I still do it, I just have no idea what I’m doing. I fly through red lights. Flood the engine. Strip the gears. No, that’s not true. I don’t even know what that means. Strip the gears? I have a visual, but it’s probably not right, of¬† a gear dancing up on a stage¬† bent over a pole while other car parts try to stick dollar bills in it’s g-string. Sure, the gear tells you it’s just trying to work it’s way through college, but somewhere deep down you know the life of easy money and cheap crack will suck it in.

Where was I?

I actually don’t know how to drive. I don’t have a license, have never had a license and though I’m fairly sure I could start a car and move it, I’m pretty sure I would only end up moving it as close as the nearest (a) wall (b) other car (c) Hobo.

My lack of license and know-how isn’t intentional. When I was sixteen I fully planned on getting my license, but somehow I never got around to it. There were always buses, and lifts from friends, and camels. For the longest time I would do that thing that Michael J. Fox did in “Back To The Future” and just hold on to the back of cars while riding a skateboard and hope they were going in my direction. I ended up in Boston once doing that. It was winter. Not pleasant.

Suddenly, time’s gone by and I still have no idea how to drive and to be truthful the idea of learning now is actually a bit expensive scary. I can’t picture myself behind the wheel, commanding this huge piece of metal that, at my will, can reach velocities that are simply unnatural for human beings. I’ve tried and I just start screaming when the car is moving. “Fuck. Shit. We’re going to crash,” I scream, while moving at a snails pace through an empty Costco parking lot.

I’m great at being a passenger. I can play CD’s and adjust the radio…oh and I’m a master at temperature control. I can ride the bus better than most people (I don’t know what that means but it’s most certainly true).

I imagine it must be liberating to just get in the car and drive wherever you want and sooner rather than later I’m sure I’ll buckle down and get my license (get it? buckle down?). In the meantime, enjoy those Donald-free roads cuz you know, it’s only a matter of timeūüôā