Tuesday 11 July 2017

This is Not She at Toronto Fringe Festival

Julia Haist is a playwright, performer and director based in Toronto. She made her creative debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2013, writing, directing and performing in Slumgum & Quaqua’s Give Up the Ghost. She most recently directed Or Not to Be by Andrew Batten at Alumnae Theatre.

Hi Sam! 

Hi Julia,

So tell me a  little bit about this play. Your character, Maura, is an english teacher trying to teach Shakespeare while under various pressures. Where does this character come from?


I was inspired to write This is Not She by my mother, who taught high school English for over thirty years. I witnessed both the rewards and challenges, the struggle for teachers to attain adequate resources for their students, the prevalence of teacher strikes and work-to-rule campaigns, as well as the job itself, educating and connecting with people who don’t always want to engage. I realized this would provide the perfect environment for a character at the end of her rope, fighting to maintain control while her personal life is in a state of turmoil.



What kind of a breakdown does your character go through during the show?


So I'm not sure how much I can say about the "breakdown" without spoilers; A lot of her struggle comes from how the events that have happened to her recently affect the way she's seen by others, and this class in particular is a sort of stand she's making,  that she won't be defined by what's happened.

Whether or not she succeeds in maintaining her professionalism and identity is the main crux of the show, and on some level, that's for the audience to decide. 


Why did you pick this particular Shakespearean piece, Troillus and Cressida, to integrate into your script?


It's a strange, obscure play that no one seems quite sure how to categorize (comedy, drama, satire etc.) but happens to somewhat mirror the situation Maura is in and shares a ton of themes, like infidelity, war, love, morality and such. 

Originally I looked into Troilus and Cressida because I was looking for a play that audiences wouldn't know very intimately, so that I could teach the themes of the show and tie it in with the events of this class without the audience bringing their own defined ideas of what the play's about. Every time I bring up Troilus and Cressida, which I looked into because I knew basically nothing about it, practically everyone (including my English teacher Mum) says "oh yeah... I don't really know anything about that play."


As writer and performer, how do you manage the dynamics of interacting with the audience both as classroom and theatre-goers?


Managing the dynamic was actually a huge challenge; the character is going through a hard time and sometimes isn't the most friendly or attentive person; once I started doing this in front of people, we realized that that dynamic is troublesome because we are asking a lot of the audience.  That was a balance we had to find and that I continue figuring out. But the audiences we've had have been very generous and even if they don't start out totally enthusiastic about the participatory elements, they seem to quickly realize that they know how to do this; they've been in a classroom before, and they become excited to participate! 

This is Not She is an interactive solo show written and performed by Julia Haist that explores the relationship between teacher and student, taking dark and unexpected turns along the way. Audience members can expect to read from one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays, Troilus and Cressida, share their own thoughts on love and war, and get to know their teacher far more intimately than anyone anticipated, including the teacher herself.

The Simian Assembly is comprised of Playwright/Performer Julia Haist and Director/Dramaturg Taylor Marie Graham for the purpose of bringing This is Not She to the stage. After directing Graham’s script Cottage Radio at the 2015 Fireworks Festival at Alumnae Theatre in Toronto, Haist brought her idea for a solo show centred around an English teacher to Graham, who is herself an English professor at Sheridan College in Toronto. The two continued developing This is Not She over the next year all the way to its world premiere at the 2017 Montreal Fringe festival.

Taylor Marie Graham (Director, Dramaturg) is a writer, director, producer, and educator living in Toronto. Taylor is the recipient of the George Ryga Award for Excellence in Playwriting from York University. In 2016, celebrated playwright Judith Thompson named Taylor as the up and coming playwright to watch in Playwrights Guild of Canada’s The Playwright Applause campaign. Her opera The Virgin Charlie was nominated in 2008 for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Opera / Musical.

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