Serious Comedy: An Interactive Documentary
From Alexandra Watt Simpson, creator of Serious Comedy:
I remember biking over to Leah’s house, my palms and brow sweaty. I was nervous. It was the first of what would be many interviews with Martha Ross, Leah Cherniak and Jennifer Brewin, the three leading women of Common Boots Theatre formally known as Theatre Columbus. A lot had led up to this moment. I had been on the Common Boots Theatre Board for four years at that point, and Jennifer and I had talked on and off about a podcast to document and share the company’s history, artistry and contributions to Toronto theatre. We hoped it might be a way to connect the past with the present while deciding what the future looked like for Common Boots. I had been, and still am, a huge fangirl of the company since my third year at Ryerson Theatre School. So, when an opportunity to discuss creation practises, politics, the theatre scene, and Lecoq with its Co-founders and current Artistic Director arose, well, it made my heart skip. Leah Cherniak was my third-year clown teacher at Ryerson. It was her class that transformed the way I looked and felt about theatre. The “joy of acting” that they speak of? I found that in her class. After that, I went to the library and took out many books, google searched: t h e a t r e c o l u m b u s, and took all the clown and physical theatre classes I could (afford) in Toronto. And now, here I was, in the living room with Leah, Martha, and Jennifer drinking tea and talking theatre.
We’ve been working on the project for just over a year now. What started as a podcast has turned into something quite different – and quite a bit bigger. As I listened to their stories, the emphasis on physical exploration and comedy, their love of collaboration, the beautiful sets and costumes they had made, and the music scores that John Millard composed, I knew that an audio piece wouldn’t be able to fully reflect the true spirit of the work they created and the legacies they left behind. I got to pour through old albums, touching and smelling the nostalgia that only comes with film photography. I got to listen to the three talk about the transition from Theatre Columbus to Common Boots Theatre and the fear, strangeness and excitement that comes with any big change (the transition is not up there yet, but will be!). And, I got to connect with three women I admire, though looking back now, I had no idea to what extent they would come to inspire me after the time I spent interviewing them.
Serious Comedy is an interactive documentary that you, the viewer, gets to decide how you experience. You can start with the repertoire, or hear Jennifer’s personal movement within the Toronto theatre scene. Over its 30 somewhat years, Common Boots Theatre/Theatre Columbus has created over 60 shows and we talked about all of them. Every month a new story or piece of repertoire will be released so keep checking the website for updates. I hope you enjoy your exploration. I know I did. I had no idea what an impact this company and its collaborators had on Toronto theatre, a community I love and enjoy, but that I don’t always understand. Sometimes it’s helpful to know, that even those you admire most, might also have been a little lost in the beginning.