#230 – Karen Hines
Karen is an award-winning writer, director and performer and the artistic director of Keep Frozen: Pochsy Productions, which develops Hines’ dark comedies for stage and screen. She is the author of Drama: Pilot Episode, Citizen Pochsy, Hello…Hello (A Romantic Satire),Oh, baby and Pochsy’s Lips as well as several short plays and the Neo-Cabaret Pochsy Unplugged, which have been presented across North America and in Germany at venues such as Alberta Theatre Projects, Tarragon Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Joe’s Pub (Public Theatre, NYC), Word Stage, Factory Theatre, Magnetic North, One Yellow Rabbit and Beme Theatre in Munich.
Featured Theatre Company
Many theatres and theatre companies that have shut down their productions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of these companies are in desperate need of help to ensure that they can keep their doors open once the current crisis is over, and many are turning to crowdfunding in order to do that. In the coming weeks Stageworthy will highlight some companies that need your help.
The Assembly Theatre
Due to this current mandated closure and the multiple cancellations of shows and events, The Assembly Theatre is taking a significant financial loss and is struggling to stay afloat. This is a very difficult time for all of us societally, and in the arts community, independent theatre is uniquely vulnerable.
GoFundMe Link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-assembly-theatre-covid19-help
Karen Hines, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:01
Welcome to Episode 230 of Stageworthy I’m your host, Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. My guest today is Karen Hines. As you know, there are many theatres and theatre companies that have shut down their productions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of these companies are in desperate need of help to ensure that they can keep their doors open once the current crisis is over, and they’re turning to crowdfunding in order to do that. In the coming weeks. I’m going to highlight some companies that need your help. This week, I want to highlight the Assembly Theatre. The Assembly Theatre is a wonderful space that provides a platform for emerging artists and independent artists from diverse communities. They’re currently running a crowdfunding campaign to help keep their doors open. And I’m going to put a link to their campaign in the show notes and I would encourage you to, if you can, give just a little bit. If you’ve been listening to Stageworthy for a while, or maybe you’re a first time listener and you’re listening through a link on the website or that you got through social media, did you know that you can subscribe so that you never miss an episode? You can do that by searching for Stageworthy on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify or, you know, wherever you get your podcasts and clicking the handy subscribe button. After that every week the newest episode of Stageworthy will be delivered right to your device. And if you subscribe, let me know that you’re a new subscriber. If you want to drop me a line you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby and My website is philrickab.com; And you can find Stageworthy on Facebook Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and the website where you can find the archive of all 230 episodes is it stageworthypodcast.com. My guest this week is Karen Hines. Karen came to talk about her upcoming play All the Little Animals I Have Eaten at Nightwood theatre, which is unfortunately no longer able to proceed due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, Karen has a lot to say and we still wanted to present my conversation with her. Karen is a playwright, performer and director. Here’s our conversation. I want to start by asking you to give me to tell me what you can about all the little animals I have eaten,
Karen Hines 02:42
RIght. Okay, all the animals I have eaten is, in some ways a modular play. There are a number of scenes between two performers slash two characters that were originally written not connected with each other. The play was very originally inspired by the Bechdel Test, okay, which is, for those who don’t know, the Bechdel Test, kind of very simply put is a test that Alison Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace came up with and in fact, some actually credit Liz Wallace more with the test, but Alison Bechdel made it famous in her comic strip. The test is a cultural test for films and television fiction. a work of fiction, a film, a television show will pass the test if in said work, there are there are at least two minutes where in two women speak to each other about something other than a men. Mm hmm. And that the test was sort of revised to include that the women had to have names. Yes, and remarkably few films at the time this test came out which is about 20 years ago. A remarkably few works of fiction. Televi sion Film, pass the test Shakespeare did not pass does not pass the test. Cats passes the test.
Phil Rickaby 04:13
Karen Hines 04:14
Yeah. Yeah. And so it’s not a it’s not a, it doesn’t assure quality. It just is a, it’s just a test just checking out what’s out there in the cultural realms. Yeah. And, and at the time I began this play, I believe it was 2014 2015. the Bechdel test was kind of a big thing. It was relatively new to a lot of people. And it was kind of revolutionary. This was before the metoo this was before Trump. This was before so many things that have rocked our world. So the play began like that, just me playing around with scenes with two women who spoke about anything And then. But then not not that the play has anything to do with the metoo movement or with Donald Trump. But the world The feeling was different. And the Bechdel Test became something that kind of receded. Yeah, from our view. And so it no longer is front and centre, although it still obeys the Bechdel Test. Mm hmm. So it passes I should say, Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 05:23
Is there a particular – aside from the
Karen Hines 05:25
I’m telling you what it’s not.
Phil Rickaby 05:28
Aside from those things would – is there? What can you tell me that it’s about,
Karen Hines 05:32
um, it is about a server. Okay. It’s about a server on a nightmarish shift. Okay, as this server works in an all female condominium beasts row and in fact, the beast row as in many server nightmares, kind of fractures into four separate establishments over the course of the evening. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been a server, but I was a server many years ago and I still have server nightmares. And my nightmares include Things like my section is in a forest. I can’t see my table. My section is on like three different subway platforms like yeah, you know and, um, but so this server is kind of setting out on this evening to finish a paper that she’s working on that is inspired by Alison Bechdel. And by Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf along with one’s own this server happens to want to live in this condominium. It’s a super fabulous all female condominium that has like very small suites, so they’re not as expensive as a two bedroom suite or a one bedroom suite. They’re mostly small studios and so many people, you know, can aspire to live in them people who live downtown, but over the course of the evening, she has many rude awakenings that have to do with her take or her interaction or her interface with neoliberalism, capitalism, and market driven feminism.
Phil Rickaby 06:58
You said that this is didn’t begin as a single play that they were unrelated at first. Oh, what point did you discover that they were related?
Karen Hines 07:08
Oh, that’s my, that’s my phone. Okay. That’s, that’s the kind of thing that would happen in my play. Okay, and then I would be the villain for having my phone my phone go off in this situation.
Phil Rickaby 07:20
That’s fine. That’s fine.
Karen Hines 07:21
Okay, we’ll be hearing that phone go off probably several times.
Phil Rickaby 07:25
As long as I know it’s not mine.
Karen Hines 07:28
Oh, I’ve got an I’ve got a new phone normally, normally my ring is crickets, which would probably kind of go with Yeah, people would just think that we had crickets in your apartment I’m so sorry. What was your question?
Phil Rickaby 07:41
It was about how you came to discover that these plays could work – did belong together, the scenes belong together?
Karen Hines 07:50
Um, well, really what happened was that I wrote one and, and then I heard about the Bechdel Test. And I observed that the same pass the Bechdel Test. The women were not good women. It wasn’t my finest work as a writer. But the scene happened to pass the test. So I took it and thought, what if I put three such scenes together? What might it feel like? And all three scenes I happened to place in situations that if they were not in a restaurant, or a cafe couldn’t be easily translated to a restaurant or cafe, like when we’re setting a park, and it was easy to move it to a restaurant, mm hmm, the store table. And so I did that. And then I just decided that there must be then a server. And then I thought, why am I never written anything about serving, seeing as I did it for 10 years, and it shaped me as he destroyed me and just figured things. And so then I put the server in and then and then I was part of the there was a play playwrights forum at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. run by Colleen Murphy. And, and I was invited to join this, this playwrights group for a month one summer. And but I had to have a play in the works. And so we just were hoping to, to, you know, make it at least 50 pages longer so that it was considerable enough number of pages that that it could be considered as a work in progress as a play. And so I mean, a lot of times you write things under duress like that, you don’t get to it until you have a deadline and the deadline can be a fringe deadline or a production deadline or, you know, a grant deadline, whatever it is, but that was my deadline, and that got me going right. And then I started to write all kinds of other things to to link it up, I decided that I didn’t want it just to be scene after scene after scene of women at you know, two women at a table talking about anything other than that. Men and babies, right? Um, I decided that, that I wanted to have a little, you know, breakout scene. So for example, one of the scenes is called Sylvia Plath on Facebook. And so it’s about what would have happened to Sylvia Plath had she been on Facebook, faster like that she would have survived. and stuff like that. Yeah. So yeah, so I started to branch out a bit.
Phil Rickaby 10:28
Is this production and like, would the first production of this
Karen Hines 10:32
No, it’s not okay. Um, the play was produced first at one yellow rabbit Theatre in Calgary. Directed by Blake Brooker and staged by Denise Clarke. And it was it was in high performance rodeo there. And it was the thing about it was that we went into rehearsal and my mother died five days before we went into rehearsal. So at a point I needed to be cutting and I needed to be cutting. I started to write a whole bunch of new stuff, right? Because my relationship with mortality became different relationships, women became different. And so I, I dug down and came up with all this new stuff. And it was clear that it was, you know, sort of like two human beings had written the same play. And yet I didn’t. I couldn’t quite synthesise everything enough to cut. Yeah. And, you know, my poor director slash dramaturg like Brooker, who happens to be my partner as well. It was a tough time, you know, he’s obviously would have been torn in several directions and really begging me to cut but then also like, you know, his, his partner is is falling apart. Yes, mother just died. And it was pretty it was she had she had been, you know, she had been alone. time going but then it was sudden like very quick and so I was very destabilised and but you know some of the really good ideas came out of it but I couldn’t cut it yet and so the play was was a bit rambley and I would not say was finished I in a way though it was the premiere I would call it a workshop production. I will say most Canadian premiers should be called workshop productions because most of us don’t get the you know, month of previews no one gets at Stratford, Shaw, you know, America Yeah, Broadway. We get to Yeah, so to call a premier a premier is is just just like unfair to most productions. But anyway, I decided under my own steam to revise it and, and then went to Kelly Thornton at night with theatre with a revision and then proceeded to workshop at twice more after production with Kelly now nightwish and then again with Andrea Donaldson when Andrea Donaldson took over, took the reins of Nightwing theatre. So it’s had as much if not more development after its premiere as it had before. Hmm.
Phil Rickaby 13:14
The idea of that we don’t get much of a workshop in Canada that I think a lot of times we don’t get sometimes we don’t get any. Yeah, that’s it. Yep. Sometimes we might get a preview or a couple of previews if that. And so I think you’re right that it turns out that the first production is often a bit of a workshop. Is that I mean, that’s something that is not uncommon in Canadian theatre, but I think that we’re I think we should workshop more,
Karen Hines 13:47
that we pretend it doesn’t have an effect on the product is kind of insane. And also when I say that it has three workshops at night would you know, bless them, those workshops were two afternoons two days, two afternoons. Right. So I’m the play is currently being translated into French. It’s going to be part of the Jimmy Lu festival in Montreal in May. It has five days of rehearsal for one staged reading in other people. And that’s the difference between the Quebec model and our model. It’s like this, this thing that we’re also used to, like frogs being boiled that we we don’t we don’t even really talk about the absence or lack of of workshopping time or development, really serious development. And many playwrights who do develop end up taking it on themselves, right. So you know, you have a lot of people like I was listening to the podcast of yours with Helen Knight, so delightful and hearing her talk about you know, how she’s gonna go and do some nursing to help finance your next work. And that’s what we do.
Phil Rickaby 14:58
yeah. I You know, I mean, we it’s impossible to live in Canada and not be affected by what happened in the States, both politically and theatrically. And if you look at at some of the more successful shows that have happened in New York, you also look at their history and see that there was a long process of workshopping. That’s right, these plays. And these cat and cast members who often go went on to originate the roles on Broadway. Were with the production for several years leading up to it, which is something that we miss entirely here where it’s almost like playwright finishes their play, they might get a revision and and then we’re throwing it on the stage.
Karen Hines 15:36
That’s right. And, and so many plays never get seen again because of that, and it’s not the play’s fault. So many plays are so close to being their brilliant self. And they just fall short, slightly because they’re too long, too short, too thin, too. You know, it’s it’s a it’s that I was part of a Drowsy Chaperone development just sort of was in the last Canadian production before it went to America. And so I was really familiar with the path that it took and how much work went into getting that to Broadway. But it didn’t just fully formed sprung from everybody’s brains onto the stage. It was loads and loads of labour and they had so much input from the Mirvishes, input, you know, creative and financial. And, you know, we forget all of that. And we, you know, we do it’s like we’re throwing little, little kittens into the water to sink or swim and, you know, kittens don’t swim.
Phil Rickaby 16:35
I don’t know, why not. Think about how, how much you learn from a play when an audience reacts to it, which is often very different from when your dramaturg sits down and talks to you about it. Yeah. Um, that I don’t know how we’ve functioned so long without exposing audiences To early drafts of a place that we can make them better and therefore, make things that that last and are produced more and more rather than done once and then forgotten. Mm hmm.
Karen Hines 17:09
Yeah. We have two previews for a little animals. That’s just the model at Nightwood that’s just the way it is. But I will be working backwards from that and trying to, even if it’s just 12 people, Mm hmm. Getting clusters of people to come and watch run throughs before we preview, yeah, because when you get a cluster where people feel a bit more anonymous, then your dramaturgy or your or, you know, to people who’ve been invited to watch whose voices will be distinct when they laugh or don’t have Yes, you know, yes. Like as soon as you get a dozen then then you then you maybe start to get a bit of a read. Mm hmm. Even six even even for it’s better than one yeah. And so I don’t know where I’m going to find them from here, but I’m going to be inviting people and hoping that they will watch in our, you know, just our last few texts. At least I have had the experience of much of the material haven’t been onstage in the Calgary audience and I know how much of it works. Yes. And that’s really helpful, but there’s a lot of new stuff in this version. Hmm.
Phil Rickaby 18:24
Um, speaking of Calgary, because you you you were born in the States, is that right? Yes. And then. So what brought you to Canada? Did you come as a child or
Karen Hines 18:33
I did come as a child and then my parents followed soon after they missed me. I did come as a child. I was three when my family moved. I have three older siblings, and they were starting to run into trouble being Canadians. Oh, everyone. My siblings were all born in Canada. Right. My father got a wonderful job at the University of Chicago. He was a physics professor and researcher there and So we brought the family down but then my brothers started protesting saying the Pledge of Allegiance school. They did not want to sing than the American national anthem, hmm. And my sister was bullied by kids in the neighbourhood because the neighbourhood we were in was sort of like right on the edge of a really rough neighbourhood. And, and so my parents decided that they though they had a great life there, they needed to move and they needed to bring us up North. So, so we moved.
Phil Rickaby 19:34
And what was your, what started you on the path to theatre and clown which I will get to but what started you on that on that path?
Karen Hines 19:45
Um, my parents are scientists, but they have always loved the arts, okay. My mother’s mother was a writer. She wrote short stories about Kensington Market when it was during the time that it was Mostly populated by Jewish immigrants. And she wrote a number of short stories. She was first published when she was 60 years old. In but she was published in The Atlantic Monthly, which is a, you know, pretty impressive place to premiere as a short story writer, and then she was published in the New Yorker. And she had about though she started when she was 60. She had at least a dozen short stories published in magazines and then in collections, and she was she ran a boarding house filled with actors and dancers, before she started writing. And, and she, she just liked them. And she when she took over this boarding house, it was it was given to her by in a divorce court and she was she was quite a wild woman she had she had several husbands and she tried to murder one I think, but sort of not really but I think she she used the the back end of meat or something. She was she was very. She was an amazing personality and she loved amazing personalities. So she filled her boarding house, she kicked out the army people in the people that she was, you know, like the dentist that she was not interested in and she replaced them with dancers, actors, writers. And one of the tenants was, became my, what he called my my step grandfather in common law. So, she, he was her third husband, who she met when he was rooming. He was 20 years or junior, but they they were married in common law for 30 years. He was an actor, okay. And he worked at Shaw, and he had one of the very first independent theatre companies in Toronto called theatre compact. And when I was 13 years old, they needed an eight year old girl for a play that they were doing and it was very small at eight so I played the eight year old Girl, and I was in a play with David ferry and Michael Hogan. Larry Reynolds, these are names that are that are, you know, a number a few of the people that have since passed away. But Linda Thorson, who was the first Avengers star King, I think she was the first but and so it was quite an experience for a 13 year old. And I was I was already infatuated with the theatre and I just I did not look back at that point. I didn’t go straight into it or anything. My parents were not stage parents. They did not help me. They really just, I was the fourth child to fend for myself. But, so I continued my life pretty much as it was, but I just do for sure what I wanted to do.
Phil Rickaby 22:52
Did you go to theatre school at some point?
Karen Hines 22:56
No. I would have it – I’m learning bit by bit that there are a number of high school dropouts college dropouts in the theatre world people whose names you would know. I didn’t even finish high school I got I got tired of it and wanted it was it was like fate fame was in the movie theatres and I wanted Oh. And so I left and I started seriously studying dance and seriously studying. Scene study. I went to New York for a year I was very young, and I and then, and then I came back and I did my equivalency and I did go to a year of university, which was incredible. I took fantastic courses that shaped me and shaped my writing to this day. But again, I left because I got an acting job. And so I went and did it and I did theatre sports, and then I started studying clown and I studied with Richard Pochinko. And I studied clown with Ian Wallace, and I studied few years after that I studied before with Phillippe Gaulier and but it was my and I studied voice with David Smuggler privately which was like one of the best things I ever did for my brain, oddly enough, so I had had great training and I had some really good teachers in New York as well. All through private studios, Stella Adler, who may or may not mean anything, okay. So I, I just saw it out individual teachers. And I was like a child eating dirt. You know, when when children are iron deprived, they will tend to eat dirt so they just know somehow they know. So I just knew what I needed. And I went for it and yeah,
Phil Rickaby 24:42
What drew you to clown because I know that clown has been a big part of of your career. So what what first, drew you to?
Karen Hines 24:49
Um, I was really repelled by it.
Phil Rickaby 24:51
Karen Hines 24:52
Yes, I was totally repelled. Sandra Shamas, who is a brilliant solo performer had studied clowns with Richard Pochinko and that was the only good thing I could say for clown. At that point. I thought clowns were I was never afraid of clowns or anything like that. But I just found the clouding that I saw often to be very saccharin. Sandra Shamans clowning was not – it didn’t look like clowning. She just had a very strong connection with the audience. She really heard the audience she was able to respond to the audience rightly. And, and that’s that is the essence of, of clowning as as Richard taught it, in and it’s very, very important listening to the audience, being one with the audience connecting with the audience, he would talk about the magic space, which is like two circles overlapping and that where they overlap is the magic space and, and that, you know, the performer is at the centre of one and the audience is at the centre of the other but there’s a place between them and that those, that aspect of it was very appealing to me and I I observed that it when I studied clown, it worked well with improv, as well with sketch comedy. But I really was not into the makeup. I really wasn’t into the noses. I really wasn’t. Then I met Mike Kennard and John Turner who are Mump and Smoot: Mump and Smoot s-m-o-ot.
Phil Rickaby 26:22
I mean, I was in Toronto, a theatre school in the early 90s when they were tearing starting to tear up a trend. And so I’m very familiar with with mump and smooth and and, and so yes, yeah, okay. Legendary.
Karen Hines 26:40
Yes. I would call them legendary clowns. Yeah. Yeah, so we we all met actually, at second city in workshops when we’re studying. And Mike and john had a real camaraderie. They played very well together. They did jibberish scenes together long before they studied clown They’re clowns for those of you who don’t know them spoot speaking gibberish and so they started doing that. And then I started kind of hanging around with them because they were they were making videos, comedy videos, they were entering contests and things like that and they needed somebody to hold the camera. And, and I was interested in directing and I was also just really I could tell that what they were doing was really exciting. And and so we started just hanging out at first and then and then they studied first with Richard Pachinko. So I kind of got my order mixed up there, but they first studied with Richard and I was like, No, I’m not I’m not. No. And, um, and I i at the time I was doing a scene study class with Carol Rosenfeld who is a brilliant scene city teacher. And she she used to come up from New York at that time, and it was always a big deal and Carol would come in, I was like, not going to miss my Carol Rosenfeld workshop. But as I was taking that workshop I was hearing about their workshop and they were their minds were being blown Hmm. And so I thought, okay, I’ll have to do the next one. So I did, and I hated it. But I also knew that I was learning things from it that were changing me in a way that was going to alter my relationship with the audience. And Richard and Ian used to talk about the purpose of their work being to break people out of their glass jars. And Mike and john and I’ve always disagreed on what that meant. I’ve always thought that it means breaking the performer out of their classroom, and they’ve always thought it means breaking the audience out of their class, right? I think they’re right, but, but what happened to me is I got broken out of a glass jar. All of a sudden, my improv work, my acting work, everything just kind of opened up and all of a sudden I could make people Laugh in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. Because I was listening to the audience and I was listening to my fellow performers in a way that I had not done before. And I was able to sort of like it’s almost like encasing myself in some, you know, this is where it starts to come stone really cloudy and where I go you like, it’s like you encase yourself in some kind of cocoon shell that actually allows you to burst out. Like there’s a there’s some sort of like saran wrap around you that that protects you so that you can be incredibly open and vulnerable in a way that is not reebie or, you know, self indulgent it’s just connecting more with the audience hearing them and you know, recognising what what they’re hearing what they want to hear what they’re you know, what the what the conversation is. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 29:53
what point did you start directing Mump and Smoot. Um,
Karen Hines 29:58
I just like, note that what I just said like the last three minutes is really bad. Like it didn’t really explain clowning very well, that was just, you know, for anyone listening. When did I start directing them? I would say, I would say I was directing them from the very beginning. We just didn’t call it that. First, we call it a holding. But, you know, I chose where the camera went, I chose you know, I chose all sorts of things. And, and I also started giving them tips because, and they sort of respected me because I had taken acting classes. And so I had, I had, in a way, a lot more experience than that. And I had been in a horror film, which was like, huge points for me. I had been in a film called Gnaw (g-n-a-w) food of the gods part two, and I had been eaten by a giant rat. And so this was something that was like, like, really, I was high status. So, so they kind of listened to me and then and then the relationship just evolved. Really quite naturally. And they started doing short performances in festivals, like 12 minute performances. And I was on the outside, you know, also sort of, you know, semi stage managing sometimes. But more and more, the conversation began to take shape. And we began to share a vocabulary around the work that they were doing, based in our shared work with Richard Pochinko, even though we did it at different times. And we developed a shorthand and then the shows, you know, you saw the early friendships. So the very first one was, you know, Toronto Fringe Festival in 1927. And, and, and I think it was when we did the first full length show that we, we called me a director. And you know, from from the get go, really it was, it was much the same as As new people so how do you direct a clown show? It’s different all the time. It’s like, Well, actually, it’s not it seems like it’s different all the time but but you know, a lot of the a lot of the work that we did involved how to create a story in a performance and be able to break out of the story so that you know, so it’s, it is different all the time because they hear the audience and so they will break out and talk to the audience, you know, interact with the audience, pick up small children and swim around because they’re not supposed to be in the theatre. And then how do you get back into the scene and, and then a lot of it, you know, a lot of the stage work is extremely tightly choreographed. And, you know, and they can’t see each other a lot of the time, right, they’re facing opposite directions or Wednesday on stage with the other. And so like in any production, you know, the director of stages a director, you helps make it work. And then I guess the only difference is that we don’t use English, you know, the only difference between our shows and, and it’s not the only difference, but you know, it’s in terms of, I stopped from directing moment spin into directing other things with that. Hmm,
Phil Rickaby 33:02
um, did you ever lose your discomfort with clown?
Karen Hines 33:06
No, no, no.
Phil Rickaby 33:10
Because what’s what’s interesting is, you know, your Wikipedia page. If you looked at it says that you’re considered a Canadian authority on Buffon.
Karen Hines 33:17
Right. Okay. So Buffon and, you know, this is another fight that John and Mike and I have. I consider buffon to be a subsection and very different from the vast majority of clowning. They consider it all to be the same, buffon just has like a few added touches or something or a few, you know, for me before was much more palatable because of the edge because of the fact that parody lent itself to satire. And satire is my bag. And so Buffon was far more far more when I when I studied before I realised Okay, I could do this when I was when I was trying to perform clown. I was horrible. I was saccharin. I was I was new, I would just show the Like marbles in my hand, like, like I was horrible. I was really horrible but I was quite horrible actually, when I was studying before with glee, but when I began to put it all together I started to put the the parody that that is involved in before but you know the the notion of affliction as a theatrical tool, the aspects of charm and where when draws them from oneself as a performer, when I started to mix all those things with my literary bent, so writing with my second city history, with my scenes, steady training with my voice training with my ballet training, I was able to put it all together and then oh my god, I can do satire that is elevated in terms of like, like heightened that is, that is, you know, a bit surreal. I can get into magical realism and have it have bite. And that’s what that’s what buffon gave me. And so then I started teaching it too because I started seeing a lot of buffon performed on stages… It’s not as bad now, but at the time I started teaching, there were a lot of people who were really very gratuitous gratuitous about their appropriation, I will say, of affliction. So drawing on something just because it’s gross more, because they think it will be hugely effective people, you know, using wheelchairs with no reason other than it has an effect, but it’s like they didn’t earn it in any way. There’s no metaphor involved with it. And I had took such an exception to that, that I started to teach just to hopefully get people thinking differently about the theatrical power of VA, and the responsibility that one has when when uses it.
Phil Rickaby 35:54
And was – did all of that you’re talking about the synthesis of all of these things. Is that where Pochsy came from?
Karen Hines 36:02
Yeah, it is. Yeah. And, but Pochsy kind of came from Second City. The the real seed for Pochsy happened in a second city show. I was in another movie at the time that I was putting up a show at second city and I was I was, you know, get to get to the theatre after shooting all day and the rest of the cast would have been rehearsing all day. So they would have all been working with each other on scenes, right? And I was quite young at that time of like, Hey, can I know? So I developed a monologue. And the monologue was Canada. And I posed as Canada, in the hospital, dying from a broken heart because of all the prime ministers who had broken her heart. And so it was she was microcosm And she was, you know, an individual but she was also standing in for a country. And I learned the power of microcosm, and metaphor. And my director at the time Sandra Balcovske urged me when I was I was trying to decide whether I should stay and do another show or whether I should leave. And and she kind of said, Get out, get out. And, and then I and so I asked her, she had directed this piece, and she had really helped me to bring it to fruition. And I asked her if she would direct the first proxy play. And, and I told her that I wanted to do the same thing but but have the character be a microcosm of North America. And she agreed to work with me and bless her heart. She sat with me for about two years once a week, like a therapist. Well, we talked about the show and his possibilities and then and then I booked into Fringe Fest. John Turner – Smoot – kind of like forced my hand and he went out and got the applications and said you have to fill these in. You have to like you’re never going to start doing it if you don’t have a deadline. Yes. Yeah. And so I filled in all the applications and I got back in those days if you were just organised and got your your stuff in first you got into the fringe and there was no lottery right? And this is again 1934. So anyway, I had all these debt these these these gigs. And the first one was in Orlando, Florida was their first fringe. And about three weeks before that first fringe, Sandra said, okay, you better write something down. And so I did, I wrote a song, and she, you know, we met we met the next day, and she said, That’s very good. Now, right another So I wrote another one and by this point she was meeting with me every day because she she’s out in parallel and then you know I wrote the second one that she okay so now maybe write something in between the songs and so I did and between like those like in those three it’s like all of a sudden it was clear show was going to be and and I had been rolling it around in my brain I knew all sorts of things about it. I knew that the character would be mercury poisoned I knew that or I knew that she was going to work in a Mercury factory. I didn’t yet know that she was going to be you know, that came out of improv that then Sandra did with me where she hot seated me because she also realised Okay, you need materials and you need it fast. She put me on the chair when she asked me questions as this character and it was like awful At first I was really bad. And then all of a sudden these things came out that were almost word for word in the script and then in the book and you know that that made it into the little short film. And these came from this one exercise with me and Sandra and then and then there was, you know, there was work to try to, you know, bring it all together and to give it a climax and to give it an ending and that kind of thing. So it’s not like there wasn’t some really, you know, hard sweat labour in trying to finish writing it, but it felt, I’m sure Sandra wouldn’t say that. It felt like it just like popped out. After two years of talking.
Phil Rickaby 40:30
Um, I – how, how close to that first fringe were you finished writing it?
Karen Hines 40:39
I would say that it was about; it got about 80% of the way there. I improvised. There was this section toward the end that is like the climactic section that I couldn’t write and I wrote some of it on the plane on the way down. But, but I I ended up finishing it on stage and then went back to Toronto and and polished it but I would say it was like 80 85% there by the time that first fringe happened, hmm. And
Phil Rickaby 41:07
Did you do other fringes that year?
Karen Hines 41:09
Yes, I did. Yeah. Yeah. Did not Toronto. No, I didn’t get into Toronto in time. It wasn’t that I didn’t you know, again, no, no lottery. I just didn’t organise it and write in fast enough. But I did get into the western fringes so Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria.
Phil Rickaby 41:31
And had you solidified that last part yet, or did
Karen Hines 41:35
Yeah. I would I would say that the script that went to Saskatoon was like 96% okay away there.
Phil Rickaby 41:44
It is. Pochsy – would you consider the Pochsy plays your first your first foray into into into play reading?
Karen Hines 41:51
I would say play writing Yeah. Writing – Second City was where I learned how to write.
Phil Rickaby 41:57
And and places that you wrote later on. Did you were they easier to write than Pochsy? Or were they more difficult? Can you compare them?
Karen Hines 42:07
Oh Baby was the second one that popped out in about five weeks. But but you know I was like in the mode right? Yeah just written proxies lips and like it wasn’t even it was like four months or five months after I finished doing you know the fringe tour and then I did a run at the poor Alex Theatre in Toronto, right and that finished in November or something and then and then I started oh baby like, you know, a month after that. And so it felt almost like the same process right so it just like it you know, like I’ve seen kittens being born and some take a long time. Oh, baby popped up everything after that has been, like, hard labour right and long. And like Citizen Pochsy took about five years. And not every day. No, but no, but took about five years to happen. And I did. I did workshop versions of it with audiences that I threw away or through most of it away. Hello, hello took yours and again Hello, hello how to post production phase as well that you know I spent as much time on it post premiere as I did pre premiere drama pilot episode, which was done at ATP took at least three years if not more and then again I worked on it for a couple years after and and then this one has taken what is it? 656 years? And you know, and I, I do rewrite my stuff in ways that some people don’t I just I’m not. I don’t feel as prolific as I think some playwrights are like they can come up with an idea and you do it and they want to leave it behind because they want to get on to this thing, but I kind of can’t get to the next thing until I figure out the one before Yeah. And it’s not profitable.
Phil Rickaby 43:56
No, but I get that I get that because the most the places I’ve written much we don’t get to workshop them. And so I’ve done them in infringer self production. And then yes, you’ve learned a lesson and now you’re have to take those lessons and put them into the play.
Karen Hines 44:11
Absolutely. Like, in a way, and this is don’t let my cast listen to this podcast, but in a way, I feel like I’m ready to start writing All The Little Animals I Have Eaten, now.
Phil Rickaby 44:25
Why do you say that you’re ready to start writing it now? Is that is that just because of what you’ve learned from it?
Karen Hines 44:30
Um, well, you know, part, partly because it’s a very particular play in that. It’s about it’s kind of about is this zeitgeist play, right? And it’s kind of about feminism. And feminism keeps changing. The world keeps changing and the world has changed so fast in the last five years. So I feel like a different person. The world feels like different world. women feel like different women. You know, people feel like different people and the market is is different and, you know, our consciousness around neoliberalism and capitalism is different and constantly shifting. And so, so I feel like I understand things better now than I did when I begin and, but also, also, in some ways, I feel like I, like I’ve written a couple of things in the last two weeks, even wakko Oh, yeah, that’s so great. That’s what this play is. And so, you know, and I, but I have to stop, right. I have to, like, I have to let my actors learn their lines. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s like, it’s got to stop. And then what And the beautiful thing is that this is when I know I’m ready to start a new play, because I’ve got things that I really want to put in, but there actually is a production happening. So I’ve got to stop myself and then I put it to the side, right, and then and then that, you know, sort of becomes the seat for the next thing. And, in fact, one of the scenes and all the little animals I’ve eaten was One that I wrote for drama pilot episode, but I cut it from trauma pilot episode because, you know, I just recognised that wasn’t you know, but then I thought oh, well, that could be in something else. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 46:11
Um, do you have a particular file or place to put things that are in the works? Or? Or do they just sort of stay in your head?
Karen Hines 46:18
I would say, you know, I would say that I would say that they stay in my head and I think the most persistent things do. But I’m very disorganised. And I have come across drafts, I came across a draft of all the little animals were I discovered about three really essential pieces that I completely forgotten about, like little bits just a little bit but like Yo, essential Yeah, and I thought I that’s really scary. Like what else is in my, you know, my fried laptop? What else is in my you know, my non existent file system? Yeah. I you know, I and I And I kid myself I, you know, I like to think that, that that is part of the process. Mm hmm. But I know I’ve lost
Phil Rickaby 47:11
you know, we’ve all lost things. That’s, you know, we all we’ve switched computers, we move things around, we forget where we saved it. I think that that that’s just a fact of modern writing when we put the digital Yeah. It’s, it’s harder to find things on a hard drive than it is to go through old notebooks.
Karen Hines 47:30
Well, I Yeah, exactly. notebooks or notebooks are scary, what I what I try to do more and more, more and more as to print out a draft at key moments like at a reading or a workshop or something. And then take all of the notes that that come back from people, write them on that draft and then also write all my thoughts or ideas for new stuff on that draft because I can sometimes keep track of those and keep those in a box.
Phil Rickaby 47:59
Karen Hines 48:00
But I don’t look at them. So, I mean, I look at the notes, look at the I look at the notes that come back from like, you know, we just did a few months ago, we did a night wood workshop with Andrea Donaldson in the room and the actors. And I did look at that just the other day, just to make sure did I touch on everything? You know, and if I didn’t, why, but yeah, it’s uh, but I had a laptop die on me about three weeks ago. And like, right at the height of everything, and I have backed up to a large extent, but not to a complete extent. And it was it was at the hands of a an Apple support worker. Are we gonna get sued?
Phil Rickaby 48:45
Karen Hines 48:46
But she moved me on to a onto a new operating system. And she said, Okay, I don’t want to give you too far because it’s gonna fry your computer. So like, so she moved me to like one stage less than I thought she should and it Fried my computer, home and And so I thought, okay, that’s a sign from the gods. Yeah. And and, you know, that’s a big clump thing from the gods, right listening to the gods. So, I just thought, okay, it’s saying, Karen, get a move on and now what you’ve got is what you’ve got. Right and just go with it.
Phil Rickaby 49:18
Karren, thank you so much. It’s been good conversation.
Karen Hines 49:21
Good. Thank you, I think for having me. It’s been fun.