#51 – Diana Tso
Diana Tso graduated from the University of Toronto with Honors BA in English Literature & from Ecole Internationale de Théâtre de Jacques Lecoq, in Paris, France. She has worked with diverse theatres internationally for over 18 years. Her favorite theatre co-creations/ performances include: Dante’s Inferno and Chekhov Shorts, both with Theatre Smith-Gilmour, and by the way, Miss… with Urge/Theatre Direct, for which she shares the Dora Mavor Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. Her Monkey Queen, Journey to the East, a one-woman performance creation inspired by the Monkey King stories in Wu Cheng-En’s 16th century Chinese novel, Journey to the West premiered at the 2010 Toronto Festival of Storytelling & continues to tour it.
Diana Tso, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:02
Welcome to Episode 52 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights, stage managers, producers and more. You can find Stageworthy on Facebook and Twitter @stageworthypod and you can find the website at stageworthypodcast.com if you like the podcast, I hope you’ll subscribe on iTunes or Google music or whatever podcast app you use and consider leaving a comment or rating. Diana Tso is a playwright and actor from Toronto. She was really quite gracious with their time because we had some technical issues during our first attempt at recording a podcast and we lost the all of the audio and so she was kind enough to jump right back in and give it another go really generous with their time. And I’m very thankful to her for that. Her show Comfort opens November 24 2016, at the Aki Studio theatre and runs to December 10. Um, in terms of things that actually, you know, one of the things that I wanted to talk to you in what I will now refer to as the last podcast is you we were talking a little bit about your story about how you came to theatre. You were saying that it started with dance. And eventually, I want more could you could you talk about about? Well,
Diana Tso 01:43
I’ve always loved to dance. Even as a kid, I, my mom caught me on a camera where I was sleepwalking. I literally crawled out of my crib and I was just dancing. And then I just crawled back into my crib and then went back to sleep.
Phil Rickaby 01:58
How old were you when that happened?
Diana Tso 02:00
I think it’s like two or three. Okay, yeah. So even then, I just love to move. And the story that I told was about my mom having a Christmas party at her work. And there was a prize to be given to anybody who danced the longest. And even though this music was still going and the winner was announced, which was me, I just kept spinning and spinning and kept dancing and dancing. I really didn’t care about winning any prizes. I just wanted to keep on dancing. So I think I’ve always loved to move. But I never, you know, became a dancer because a lot of I guess Asian families I can make maybe speak for myself is that they don’t think of arts as a career. Something that you’re gonna make a living out of. So with that never crossed my path. I also had scoliosis. So I didn’t fit that perfect. Body form height, width of being a dancer. So I just thought, just do it for for fun. But I had an amazing teacher, Catherine Heppner, I think, and she just was so amazing. And I always remember her words, that we were all dancing, I was learning all these different movements. And we all you know, the music played, and there we went. And then she pointed out to the class, she said, doesn’t matter how much technique you have. But if you don’t have the passion, then it’s you know, you’re missing, you’re missing the magic. So Diana may not be doing all the right techniques and all the right moves. But there she is, whether she’s doing it wrong or right. She’s just doing it passionately. And that’s, that’s the important thing. So I knew, then it just enforced to be yourself to follow your heart to follow your passion. And maybe you could be doing all the wrong moves in somebody’s eyes, but they’re the right moves for you.
Phil Rickaby 03:52
When you were I mean, you weren’t you just mentioned about how in your family and the arts were not something that was thought of as something that was a career not a secure, and what did you What did you intend to do before? The when you were thinking about University and things like that? What is it that you wanted to do or you are going to do?
Diana Tso 04:13
I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I enrolled in the English literature at U of T because I loved reading. That’s all I knew that about University. So I just read lots of books. And then my dad says, Well, what are you going to do with a literature degree? And I said, I have no idea. So he goes, well enrol in either teachers college or law school. So I started writing the outset. And then I was sitting there in the big hall and the time was ticking. And then I just started colouring all different circles, no matter what the question was. And I just had the epiphany that I don’t want to be a lawyer. I have no idea what I want to be, but I definitely don’t want to be a lawyer. That’s all I know. I ran out of there called my mom, I was crying. She said just come home. You don’t have to be a lawyer if you don’t want to. Let’s just talk about it. She’s a social worker. So it’s all about talk.
Phil Rickaby 04:59
That’s a very important, I can’t tell you how many people I know or have heard of who they sort of had that same sort of thing. You can be this you can be a lawyer, and oh, well, I’ll be a lawyer. And they went so far into it became lawyers and hate it. So these you found out before you got into the school or became a lawyer, it was not for you. Yeah. But then what did you decide to do?
Diana Tso 05:24
While I was University, friends of mine, were all taking accounting and business and all that. And they wanted to form a theatre company that promoted heritage to encourage youth to be proud of their culture and proud of their history. So it was called Kaaba. And they had a play, right? They had a play, they had a director, then everything fell through. And they said, Diana, why don’t you write the play? Why don’t you direct it? Because you’re the closest to the arts in the entire company. And I said that I don’t write plays, I don’t direct plays, I read books. And I have a thesis. Yeah. So I talked to some friends that were in the drama department on how to go about, you know, mounting a production. So the business side, took care of all the business, got people in the room to audition book, the spaces, booked the places. And, and we basically wrote the script as a collective. And then I directed it for the first time. And, and I wanted to find out, wow, this is pretty cool. This is pretty fun. And somebody asked me, so somehow, I wanted to be a better director to communicate with the actors. So I decided to audition for a play. But I couldn’t get it. And I became the assistant director, really fun for a show called the farm show. That was a very multicultural piece by Paul Thompson. Right. And that was at the tarragon Spring Festival. Right, I worked with Colin Taylor, and it was really, really great. And then he recommended me to direct a fringe play that was all adverse. And then the, the writer, producer sets. So you know, this is a fringe play. So we can’t, you know, we have a limited budget, what what is your expected fee? And I was there’s fees, I gotta tell my parents, there’s fees you can get you can get money for for directing. So then they made an offer. I said, Well, what what, you know, what’s your budget, they made an offer. And I said, that sounds fine. And so I directed this play, then I still wanted to really dive in further, what is it like to stand in the after shoes, so I finally got a piece merging. That was a play, called worlds between and emerged, an old mythology, called legend of the white snake with a contemporary story about a writer and a producer and a mom, and I played the girlfriend. So I had a chance to actually practice and learn Chinese opera, and at the same time be in this play. And the moment I stepped off stage, boom, I had an epiphany. I don’t want to be a director. I want to be an actor. And I got to get serious because I think this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Phil Rickaby 08:20
So you you studied Chinese opera, was that, under the under the director is a Chinese performer. What What did you learn about about because Have you been exposed to Chinese opera before that? scene performances, okay? And what was your what was the difference in your perception of what that was in watching a performance compared to actually like, doing it
Diana Tso 08:45
doing it is so much more fun. Because you get to move I was learning, you know, the different martial arts and there was stage combat involved. I played this mythological creature, which was lady green snake. And it’s just, it’s just so fun. Like, the physicality is really fun. I didn’t do the singing, there was no singing in it. But the physicality was fun and learning about this cultural. This cultural, ancient story that’s in an opera is hours and hours long, but we’ve condensed it. And it’s a beautiful story and, you know, working with, there was another actor, she’s from Hong Kong, and learning from her, who is from that cultural, you know, culturally through her eyes, in the theatre in Asia, and learning about the cultural aspects of the play. It was just a really great experience.
Phil Rickaby 09:44
Awesome, and then, so you learn that,
Diana Tso 09:47
so I had that epiphany of, I want to be an actor, so I decided to take workshops, but it wasn’t enough. So I decided to go to school, and I was recommended to go to the Lecoq School in France, because it was actors, directors, dancers, movers creators from all walks of life who already have a degree behind them. And they’re coming together because they want to collaborate and they want to create
Phil Rickaby 10:13
Had you heard about Lecoq school before.
Diana Tso 10:15
Phil Rickaby 10:16
So it was like you didn’t quite know what you’re getting into when you when you went there?
Diana Tso 10:20
No it was like, I’ve always wanted to live in France. So that was like a blast. And I spoke some French, and just to be living in a country outside of Canada, I think would be such a unique and enriching experience. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 10:36
So you were you were at the Lecoq. How long did – do you audition to get into the Lecoq?
Diana Tso 10:40
No, but basically, your first year is an audition.
Phil Rickaby 10:43
Diana Tso 10:44
Patient for three months. And then you’re basically auditioning for the rest of the year. So from you know, 100 something, they narrowed down the second year to like 30 Students.
Phil Rickaby 10:56
Wow, that’s, that’s quite an attrition rate.
Diana Tso 10:58
Yeah, was crazy,
Phil Rickaby 10:59
It must have been an intense time like to think about it. But also, just to think like to know that like, this is this whole year is my audition. And at the end of this year, I might not continue that stressful.
Diana Tso 11:12
Well, you couldn’t think I might not continue. No, you have to say, I’m going to continue, I can continue. I have the right to be in this school, right. And I was even warned Canadians are really nice. So be tough. Like, there’s something that when an exercise is presented, whether you understand the instructions perfectly or not just get up and do it.
Phil Rickaby 11:33
What’s the biggest lesson that you learned from the Lecoq school?
Diana Tso 11:37
make mistakes and enjoy them? Yeah, one of my professors is just make mistakes and enjoy them. And yeah,
Phil Rickaby 11:45
I think that’s one of those things that I think is one of those valuable lessons, those valuable things to hear. Because I remember being in theatre school, afraid to make mistakes, even though they said, No, there are no right answers. And then on the other hand, somebody would say, but get it right, you know, so it was always like, you’re always worried that maybe I’m doing the wrong thing. But I think more encouragement to make mistakes would make it I don’t know, my I want to say better experience, but a more enriching experience.
Diana Tso 12:19
I think that’s the because it’s a it’s a theatre school, about creation, right about creating your own work. I think if you you don’t allow yourself to take those risks and to make mistakes, then you’re you’re going to be in this box where you can never fully explore the potential of you as an artist and your story as a story out there to be expressed in the maximum most 360 degree way.
Phil Rickaby 12:45
Right, right. Yeah. And you were at that school, you’re at the cop for two years. And when you came when you came back, what was what was it that you saw yourself doing when you came back? Well, we did you was there a difference between the path that you wanted to take when you came back and the path that you eventually took?
Diana Tso 13:05
Well, I felt like I didn’t fit in because everybody had to get an agent and then wait for somebody call, call the call, you go to the audition, and then you get a part where you don’t get a part. And I just thought, this is not working for me, because all the people that I knew were all from Europe, and they were creating companies and creating their own works. Yeah, so I called Dean Gilmore. He’s Smith. He also him and and Mimi Smith, graduated also from macaque. And I said, I graduated from macaque. And I feel out of place. Are you having it on any audition? So they were and they were working on Dante’s Inferno? Okay, so I basically went in, and all we did was play, it was just like school all over again, we had excerpts of Dante’s Inferno, that you take the text and you just run with it with other, you know, whatever, that another actor in the room. So that was really great. I had, I had a great audition, and they ended up doing the show with them. And it was so fantastic to feeling that you’re not fitting into being part of a company that, you know, share the same experience with you. But that at the same time, I also did work the traditional way of how it is done in Canada, where you’re workshopping new plays, or you’re in a in a Shakespeare play, or you’re in a play. That’s, you know, the traditional way of auditioning and getting cast in a role. So I still do both. I still create my own work, but then I’m also in plays that are either new or an workshopping
Phil Rickaby 14:40
or classical and remounting. When did you start writing? Again, this is generally like you came back from the COC where you were you writing from the time that you came back, or did you start to write plays later on,
Diana Tso 14:57
Uh no but with the with theatres Gilmore we’re, we’re, we collaborate. So we’re, we’re sort of writing and creating as an ensemble. So in a way that kept my, my creativity and that that part of me going, I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped writing, you just write in journals you write whenever you feel like writing, but there was no like, specific goal until, you know, redsnow, my previous play came along, where I had seen a documentary called in the name of the Emperor about World War Two, and about the other half of the world that we rarely hear about in World War Two. And I was propelled to say, why don’t we know this history? Why don’t we know these stories, and the stage is my public platform to speak. So I’ve got to write something. So that was in 1996.
Phil Rickaby 15:53
And those stories that were that that we don’t know, are the stories of, of people who are not European, it’s the story of stories of the the, the, the rape of Nanjing, the the the Japanese invasion of China, and all of that. And those are stories that we don’t hear, because we live in a largely European country. And you you hadn’t You just said you didn’t know those stories until you saw that documentary. That was 1996. And so that inspired you to write redsnow, and was about a year and I was gonna ask you what what red snow was about. And so you
Diana Tso 16:35
so is that it’s inspired by the survivors of dancing. And it’s about a granddaughter searching for her grandmother’s silent stories. So since the beginning of time, her grandfather had listened to Chinese opera, but would never speak, oh, never sing. And she knew that it was connected to her grandmother. And she would have nightmares of this opera. Until one day, she said, if nobody’s going to speak in this household, and it’s so dysfunctional, I’m going to go to China and find my grandmother myself, she must be buried somewhere. And so she finds out about forgotten Holocaust, she meets a Japanese man, and they fall in love, and he helps her find, you know, her grandmother, but they don’t they finally find the story by returning home as a couple wanting to start a family and the grandfather’s thing for him to get out of my house. And then finally finding peace and reconciliation, to say that love has no boundaries. So yeah, so it’s the story of the forgotten. Silence story.
Phil Rickaby 17:43
And you were What was that? Where did you perform that? That was at theatre passe muraille, back in 2012? So you started writing this? You said in 1996?
Diana Tso 17:53
Yes. Didn’t get out writing grant. Like, I didn’t really delve into it until 2005. Because I was busy acting. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 18:03
And so it was performed at some theatre passe muraille. And was that part of a Fringe Festival? Or was
Diana Tso 18:12
No, no self produced
Phil Rickaby 18:13
So self produced?
Diana Tso 18:14
Phil Rickaby 18:16
And then, and then what happened with it?
Diana Tso 18:18
Then in the same year, we got accepted into the Shanghai contemporary Theatre Festival. And that was in November. So we took everybody there. Thank you for thanks for all the fundraising. And, you know, the Canada Arts Council. So we took a team of 13 people there. And it was just a great experience, because actually, that year 2012 was the 75th anniversary of the remembrance of Nanjing. So it was really important for me, although it’s crazy sometimes to be in festivals, because they, they pay very, very little money. It was really important for me to have that story there. And it was so beautiful, because when we had q&a afterwards, there was this woman who said that mother in your play is my mother. And she has the same nightmares and we’re still waiting for an apology. And it’s great that I can’t believe that. You’re in Canada, you made the story. And you all come here and you speak the story and perform the story and it opens up a way for us to begin to heal because we may never get an apology there may never be a closure we have to find one for ourselves.
Phil Rickaby 19:34
So that documentary was the you mentioned was like the the name in the name of the Emperor was the name of the documentary was the beginning of your inspiration for red snow. What? What was the research for it like?
Diana Tso 19:48
Well, I was sitting in a dentist’s office and I came across an article about alpha education and alpha is the Association for learning and preserve During World War Two history in Asia, and I’m like, aha, there’s somebody who wants to talk about it. Because during that time when I was trying to talk to the community about it, nobody really wanted to talk about World War Two, because why do you want to, you know, dredge up the past the pain and the tragedy, right. So it was very difficult. There was not a lot of research material except for Irish Chang’s, the Forgotten Holocaust, the rape of Nanking. So I contacted Flora Chong, who’s a main organiser in this amazing organisation, and she read my place, she loved it, they became one of my supporters. And every year they’ve stopped. Now unfortunately, because most of the survivors have passed away. They take educators from across Canada and Australia, to China and Korea to meet the survivors. And that includes the comfort women in all survivors of World War Two, learning more about World War Two history in Asia, visiting all the different places, of importance of massacres of medical experience experiments by the military, the Japanese military. And that was such a humbling and precious experience to meet the survivors firsthand and talking with them and, you know, hearing their story like live and feeling their pain.
Phil Rickaby 21:24
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there is no no real comparison with hearing somebody tell their story is different than reading it. In terms of of learning their stories, was it hard to find the people who have been comfort women was it was that a difficult thing for you to, to, to locate them?
Diana Tso 21:47
Well through alpha. So through flora. Through that tour with educators, they were they set up all these meetings to listen to the testimonies of comfort women of world war two survivors, ones of chemical warfare, all the more the whole range, and then in 2000, in 2009, in 2008, after speaking with flora, she set up an interviews with me by connecting me with a professor in Nanjing. So I had a phone number I got there. I called him, he set up these interviews, and it was just amazing. So I met a woman we call her Ma sha. And the last time people went on that tour, she was basically going blind from from crying all the time, because the pain is still within her. And this is, you know, over 75 years, and she took me to we went to her home, I sat there, she gave me her hot water bottle to keep me warm. And I’m free to push it back to her and my hands were frozen. And she was just so welcoming, and so open to talk about her story. And I was just so grateful for that. And then I also met a man named Mr. Chang. And after interviewing him at a cafe, he said, You still have time because I really want to take you to a special place. And he took us to swallows rock and swallows rock is the place where many massacres happened, but there, nobody really knows about it. So the Japanese military would pack truckloads of people and tell them that they were going to be free and take them to swallows rock which is a cliff and then have them walk off the cliff into the icy waters of the Yangtze River. And still many massacres happened there. And I was so grateful that he took me to sites that like are not on the you know, the historic map that we may not all know about. And when I when he escorted us to the bus with to go back to this the main city, the heart of the city downtown, I just broke up and I just, you know, cried for like half an hour on the bus and like non stop but just totally overwhelmed me and affected me from his. From his testimony to him taking me to this place. He said that his he watched his mother being bayoneted by a soldier, and as she lay there dying, she heard the baby their baby brother cry, and asked him to find the baby brother. And he found his baby brother crawling on ice so as snow on top and ice on the back, bottom, so he would crawl forward and slide back. He brought the baby back to his mother and the mum breastfed the baby till she passed away. So from that moment on, I named my playmates know, as I saw the whole place that I saw this baby and I saw the whole place the chaos, and this frozen moment with his babies just crawling back and forth on the snow. And I realised that the snow is probably not white.
Phil Rickaby 25:03
Diana Tso 25:04
And so I named it red snow before it was called so many different things from rage because I was so upset, of course about it to pain to scientists, because nobody would talk to me. And then finally it became red snow.
Phil Rickaby 25:17
It’s been very powerful to present that both here. But then to take it to China. and have it performed there. Absolutely. Now, when did you start working on comfort, which is the play that you have coming up?
Diana Tso 25:31
Right after I came back from China, because I discovered funding in an envelope to write the next slide. Which was such a blessing. Yeah. So I, they wanted me to write about my proposal was to write about the grandparents story from redsnow. And eventually, while I was writing, it guided kind of morphed into something else. Because what if she didn’t die when if she lived and survived the war? For for eight years, because in China, World Wars two actually started in 37, not 38. So it became not a sequel, but an entirely different story. And it became about a comfort woman so that she was not only raped once, but you know, becoming a comfortable woman and how she survived and how she was separated from her, her dear friend and love, and how, what happens when they get back together and how they survive.
Phil Rickaby 26:37
And so and that’s what that’s comfort is, is that and, and I mean, the term comfort woman is something that when when you first mentioned it, I don’t think I understood what that meant.
Diana Tso 26:49
The term that the military military use, and it’s so it’s basically from women hate that world, of course.
Phil Rickaby 26:57
It’s basically somebody who is forced into sexual slavery, slavery. Yeah. And there, and this is something that happened that we don’t care about. And I think,
Diana Tso 27:10
I think it’s starting to be more, you know, more prevalent in the media, and there’s movies, there’s more books, more literature now on it. There’s the comfort of the Chinese comfort women, which is the book I discovered in 2014, which veered me towards writing about the comfort women because I realised a lot of people, even people on my team thought that the comfort women were only Korean women, because they are so vocal, they, some of them live in the same place in the House of Sharing. And they’ve, you know, painted and found a place of healing. And people come and visit them, and they share their testimonies. But in a lot of places in Asia, all the survivors all segregated, they have no place of healing, they have nobody to talk to. And so I wanted to give voice to their stories. So it was great that this book came out. It was a book that took I think, over 10 years to collect all these stories and to have the women repeat their stories so that it was, you know, it was that there, you know that the memory was clear. And that the the facts and everything were accurate. So I decided to give light to those stories. People don’t even know that there were Dutch women who were also comfort women because Indonesia was a Dutch colony during World War Two.
Phil Rickaby 28:36
It’s it’s sort of highlights the importance of telling the stories, even ones that we’re not that are not. We love to tell heroic stories, and we love to tell stories that have a happy ending, and we love a certain type of story. But with history, history often doesn’t have a happy ending. But if we don’t tell the stories, then they get forgotten. And it’s like they never happened. That’s really important to work that you’re that you’re doing with this play.
Diana Tso 29:09
To me, absolutely. I I always even though it’s tragic, I always bring the light of hope. And the hope also is not only in the characters, but hopefully they reflect us. You know, humanity itself, the choices that we make,
Phil Rickaby 29:26
and you were I mean, when you said that when you started writing it you were thinking of comfort as a sequel. But how long was it before you started veering away from it as a sequel?
Diana Tso 29:38
After the first draft, because my director, who was the choreograph – was a movement and music director in red snow. I this is his directorial debut William young. He was going he was his directing it. And he said there’s a lot of repetition in this story. To read snow, and it’s because it’s the grandparents, right? So it’s very interconnected. And he said, Just wondering, just a thought, what if? What, you know, what if it’s another? What if you had something else to say about love and war? and World War Two? What else would you say? So then, you know that that book passed, crossed my path. And I thought, what if that grandmother was that woman? That young woman never died? After the first, the first time she was violated? What happens if she had to survive? Eight years of it?
Phil Rickaby 30:43
And that is that I mean, and comfort is not just that it’s it’s a love story as well. So two teenagers during the war, yeah. What was it like? taking that into workshops? And cuz you said, You were saying in the last podcast that you did two workshops? What was it? What was it like seeing this play? come to life? Was it different from when red snow came to life was there it was, was it a different experience seeing it, or hearing it?
Diana Tso 31:24
with red snow, I took a more of a traditional route where you have the text and you have an actor’s gathered around a table, then there’s talking and then you might put some in your structure, put some scenes up on its feet. And then you give the script to the music composer. And she or he goes away and writes the music for it. In this one, I just did it in a totally different way where I wrote the script, but I used movement and music, working with live musician working with the composer in the room with a dancer and an actor, and taking the bits of the script or words or themes and seeing what happens with the music, what can be created, what kind of music gets created, what if people are moving? How does that inform the music and vice versa. So it was really great, because even though the the musicians are not used to moving, they’re so attached to their instruments. So there was some security issues because they’re not used to that, but they were really great and, and opened up and try new ways of exploring music through movement, and then going back to their instrument, and then jamming, which was really great. And when it was such a beautiful experience where we created a lot of music, sometimes it would be a word that was dropped or a movement that was created. And then that would propel the musicians and the music composer to create something and I remember one piece that they created, I just saw the moon which is a character, like the moon in the sky is a character at witnessing the war and Moon is also the bringer of the lovers together. So I saw the moon witnessing and a whole monologue came out of it of moon witnessing humanity, the atrocities of war. And a monologue came out of the music that I heard, which would have been probably not happened, that monologue wouldn’t have been born. If it wasn’t for the music that was created that was ignited by the mood that was invited by maybe one word from the story.
Phil Rickaby 33:28
It’s amazing how much music can affect a situation like that, like theatre and like working like that. And live music, especially when you can have somebody working with you to develop the music and and and how that affects movement and things like that. Comfort has live music in performance.
Diana Tso 33:51
Yeah, we have an musician playing accordion and piano. And then our who which is a Chinese violin and a percussionist. It’s crazy.
Phil Rickaby 34:04
Because it sounds like, like the kind of story that I’m trying to the way that you’ve described, it is so vivid, that I’m trying to see, you know, if you hadn’t recorded music, it would work. But having the musicians there had so much to any live performance that that I’ve got to think that it’s going to be hugely affecting to have that like to be in an audience and see that happen.
Diana Tso 34:33
Well, they’re not only playing the instrument, they’re also usually using their voices as well. So when we were workshopping it, we were working with a voice coach. And in musicians usually are not using their voice. So it was very exciting and scary for them because they’re used to being quiet. So when they were asked to, you know, evoke the sounds of the soldiers of the landscape, it was just very, very Exciting, challenging for them. So I’m excited because they’re not only using their instruments, but they’re using their bodies and their voices as the instruments as well
Phil Rickaby 35:09
how? I mean, I can I can picture how that was at first, how did they take that after a while? How was it difficult to get the musicians to embrace the movement and the sound away from their instruments,
Diana Tso 35:23
they all have varying degrees of you know, as actors, we do crazy things, you know, we’ll, we’ll like, crawl around, and we don’t care what our voice sounds like, whether it’s prettier, and all right. So I think that that was, might have been a little bit jarring for them. But then at the same time, I think they felt it was like, really freeing as a musician to go, I can experiment with my voice. Cool. I think I want to get into this. So I think it just opened up new avenues for them personally, as artists of expressing themselves, which at first was scary, but I think was invigorating, and a really growing experience.
Phil Rickaby 36:05
So that was your first that was your, your first workshop with the musicians and and, and, and, and actors in a dancer. Yeah. The second workshop was that was focused more on text,
Diana Tso 36:20
Text and actors, some movement. So it was more on the text and the actors. And then we brought the musicians in for a few hours to repeat some of the music or the presentation, because there was not enough funds to do the whole thing.
Phil Rickaby 36:38
It never is. And so now, as we record this, you are a month away from opening this show. And you started rehearsals for Halloween. So we are recording this on on a Wednesday. So just a few days, you’re starting this, you’re starting to reverse it, how does it How does it feel? Are you excited nervous? Like this, this thing you’ve been working on for so long is now about,
Diana Tso 37:10
I think, because I’m also the self, self producer. So it’s also crazy there. So I feel a mix of feelings. I feel really exhilarated, giving birth to a new story and seeing it come to life with actors and music and everything. And at the same time. I’m also terrified, because, you know, will the story, you know, you know, how will it all work out? And how will you know, finding the rest of the funding all work out? So it’s, it’s a mix of terror and exhilaration
Phil Rickaby 37:42
when you were doing your workshops, did you do a public presentation or an invited presentation?
Diana Tso 37:46
Yeah. So in spring 2015. Last year, we had a workshop presentation was public pay as you can
Phil Rickaby 37:53
did that give you a sense of how like, it’s so hard with workshops to know, because you don’t know how it’s going to change the next time or what’s gonna happen. Did you get any sense from it about how it was like how it was being received?
Diana Tso 38:05
I think people were very excited about it. I I know it also caused controversy, which is exciting, because you want people to talk you want people to get engaged in conversations. So you know, I remember one was about what about the soldiers point of view. And, you know, the soldier is very, the soldiers and the officer they have, you know, I wanted to portray them at their, you know, these are boys who were you know, teenagers going to war and not knowing what they’re getting into necessarily, and having to been trained so intensely, with, you know, probably an abusive training, and every doing everything in the name of the Emperor. So that that will, you know, I took that account, but the story was the voices of the women, it was about the women and i and i, if somebody else wants to write a play from the soldier’s point of view, or from the officers point of view, I think there’s a lot of hero stories. It’s time for the hero wins to be honoured.
Phil Rickaby 39:09
Absolutely. Do we do this? Every story has to be about the man. And I say that as as a guy. I haven’t we haven’t we told enough stories. Haven’t haven’t. Haven’t the guys dominated things enough. That controversy, who was presenting that controversy from that from that workshop?
Diana Tso 39:30
one of the audience members asked about the soldiers point of view of how that can be brought out more intensely?
Phil Rickaby 39:40
It’s always interesting during a workshop, those some of those q&a is can be a little bit fraught, because there’s always going to be somebody who their feedback is more about how they would have written it, and which is always like, right, but I wrote this one and if you want to read you want that story, you should write that story, when you have to take that sort of graciously Did you expect that like feedback that was going to be more along the lines of, hey, like, I think you should have written it like this, or we’re like, what were you expecting versus what you got as part of the workshop?
Diana Tso 40:18
I wasn’t really expecting everything. I mean, I’m very open to dialogue in, you know, dialogue, and I think, bringing up questions, and I may not always have the answers to, but bringing up questions just, you know, make makes people think makes people feel make people go, Well, what yeah, maybe I should write a story from their own point of view of how they want, you know, whatever they want to express or, but then it can also inform you as a writer about characters and development or what parts of they didn’t understand what parts excited them or parts didn’t. So it’s, you know, you always take everything, you know, they’re not the ones that are creating the story. You’re taking different aspects, but you may not always follow the recipe, but it’s always good to, to, to listen, right, yeah, necessarily have to follow their same recipes.
Phil Rickaby 41:13
No, it’s interesting, because I always I’ve often found in workshops that, that I usually know what I need to if I’m doing a public presentation, I know what I need to know. Because the audience told me when we performed it, and when we read it, the q&a, I often feel like I have to direct a little so that it doesn’t get too out of hand. But it’s good that I think you have a healthier view of audience feedback than I sometimes do. No, I think i think that i think that I sometimes feel a little bit like, Oh, I have to do a q&a. But I’m a little bit resistant about it. But it sounds like you’re i i think i would aspire to think more like you in terms of getting the feedback just to be able to take it, accept it. And maybe there’s a good idea and to at least look at it and hear it with this show starting rehearsal on on Monday. How has it changed? So you’ve had two workshops? Are there things that have changed a lot since you started your first workshop? Or is it? Are there themes that are the same? Were there new themes that you discovered during the workshops?
Diana Tso 42:29
I think the storyline is clear, especially in Act One of how we get into Act Two, for the main characters. So I think more of the characters have been volumized have ever met more well rounded development. And in the first one, the boy and the girl were together, so they ran away together? Yes. And then they were hiding in a house that got taken, got converted into a comfort house, and they got separated into two rooms. Well, that’s no longer happening. Because I just didn’t know how I could help him survives eight years that I know my best to keep them alive, but no putting them in that situation. And then of course, the officer would know that they were over. Yeah. And at the, in the beginning was about Oh, these two people care about each other. And I’m going to do this and separate them and torture one and watch the other one suffer. A lot of times the military did do that make people suffer make families watch their, their daughter’s being raped. But how long could that go for? in which you go this? This kids know, useless to me, right?
Phil Rickaby 43:55
As much as you keep them alive for eight years is when? Exactly. So. So ultimately, ultimately, he’s not part of the house.
Diana Tso 44:04
He’s not part of the house, but he finds out, okay, where she is located.
Phil Rickaby 44:09
And these are important things he probably wouldn’t have learned if you hadn’t had workshops, really, because I know there’s something invaluable about sitting down with actors and musicians and, and a director and like learning and talking about things and seeing how things feel and how they work. workshops are so important. You were talking we were talking about about the workshop process and how things have changed from your initial script into the to the current version. I can’t imagine how much of us be looking forward to and also maybe being nervous about that first that opening that first performance. How do you hide like you’ve got a great cast of people But you’ve got some some great musicians. Even before you, you’re starting rehearsal on Monday, what’s your What’s your feeling as you as you head into that,
Diana Tso 45:08
I feel like, I wish I had more time as a playwright, to just literally be divorced from the reality of worlds. So I can totally concentrate and take each single character and go through that whole journey again, and really flesh out things. But because I’m trying to balance the producer with the playwright, it’s really hard because the player, the producer, is very demanding, and has this mountain of paperwork mountain of everything. So I mean, I guess I’ll have to do that when I’m inside that process. And we’re rehearsing and I start changing things. So that’s exciting. But I just feel like, you know, there’s always not enough time to be fully prepared for the first reading. You know,
Phil Rickaby 45:56
yeah, I think that one of the hardest things that I’ve I’ve had to do as a playwright is to embrace imperfection. And to just sort of accept that the play is what it is, at the time that we start rehearsing it. And I, I could keep messing with it. But at a certain point, actors have to learn lines, and things have to happen. And so you have to learn how to just let go and let it be what it is, even though you kind of want to just make it perfect and keep working it. But I think no work of art is ever perfect. And that’s kind of what makes it art.
Diana Tso 46:37
That reminds me of this thing. One of my musicians is also dear friend who plays the accordion and the piano cattiness body. Because when I’m in that zone, she always reminds me of Leonard Cohen. Only with a craft as the light light shines through. So yeah, can’t have a perfect because the light won’t shine through. Yeah, right. So I was trying to remember that. But because when I was working when I was working on the the, the previous draft draft number seven this summer, and you know, sometimes sometimes when you do work on it too much, it just becomes like, Oh my gosh, because when the director saw that, that draft, he goes, What are you doing? Why are scenes missing?
Phil Rickaby 47:26
Diana Tso 47:27
Why did? Why is this at the beginning of the play now? And I go, because I didn’t like it. And because I moved it there. No Diane, you just workshop this twice. Yeah, we’ve had discussions about this. Yeah, you can’t suddenly. So you can’t re – re-workshop. So you can’t just everything away, and then just do what, you know, do whatever. So you have to have a Why are we taking away this? Yes. Yeah. Why did you move that back to where we discussed it for 10 minutes, where it shouldn’t be there.
Phil Rickaby 48:07
So. So it’s funny, because I think that as writers, we always want to keep perfecting and fixing. But then I think there’s a point at which you can actually perfect the life out of the piece. Because you’ve because things like it’s meant art isn’t perfect, like I said, and so when you start making it too perfect, then it doesn’t breathe and it doesn’t live in the same way that it did when it was just not quite right. Yeah. When you’re trying to glue all the cracks together. There’s no light, no light shining through. Yeah. So comfort opens at
Diana Tso 48:49
November 25 to December 10 to December 10 at the Aki studio, which is the native Earth Performing Arts inside Daniel spectrum which is 585, Dundas Street East parliament and Dundas which is in the Regent Park area,
Phil Rickaby 49:05
and it’s produced by red snow collective. And you guys are on the web at
Diana Tso 49:12
WWE dot redsnow collective.ca.
Phil Rickaby 49:15
ca and social media, you our
Diana Tso 49:19
Facebook redsnow collective and Diana Cho t s o as in Toronto Symphony.
Phil Rickaby 49:26
And And what about what about Twitter? I Are you on Twitter? Yeah, that’s no collective is on Twitter. And you are. Were you under
Diana Tso 49:37
Phil Rickaby 49:37
Okay. That’s, that’s
Diana Tso 49:39
red snow collective
Phil Rickaby 49:40
cool. Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
Diana Tso 49:42
Thank you so much.
Phil Rickaby 49:43
It was good fun.
Diana Tso 49:44
Yeah. It’s really great.